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China Struggles to Quell Ethnic Violence

July 7, 2009 at 6:10 PM EST
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JIM LEHRER: And still to come on the NewsHour tonight: teachers in New Orleans; new guidelines on stem cell research; and the big Jackson farewell.

That follows our look at the violence in northwestern China between Han Chinese and the Uighurs, a group with ethnic Turk roots. We begin with a report from Ian Williams of Independent Television News in Beijing.

IAN WILLIAMS: Armed police flooded Urumqi today but could do little to prevent the simmering ethnic tensions again bursting onto the streets.

This time, angry mobs of Han Chinese wielding sticks, pipes and shovels, they headed towards Muslim Uighur neighborhoods, chanting, “Defend the country.” The riot police eventually blocked their way, later firing tear gas to disperse the crowd.

Earlier, scores of Uighur women confronted another group of police, protesting against mass arrests of men from their Muslim community. It had begun as Chinese officials bussed journalists and photographers to the city to see the aftermath of the weekend rioting.

The authorities say more than 1,400 alleged rioters have been rounded up. The women claimed men had been strip-searched and taken away if they had cuts, bruises, or other signs of fighting.

“Our situation is too tragic,” this woman said. “It will be better to shoot us and kill us than live like this.”

Another woman made her lonely gesture of defiance.

These are the latest pictures to emerge of Sunday’s rioting. They show parts of Urumqi in flames.

The official death toll from China’s worst ethnic violence in decades remains at 156, with more than 800 injured, an extraordinarily high number, according to the U.N.’s top human rights official today. He’s called for a transparent investigation into who was killed and how.

The government has still not released any breakdown, blaming exiled separatist leaders for the unrest.

The authorities in Urumqi are continuing to limit access to the Internet and mobile phones. Tonight, the city is tense and under curfew with little sign of the ethnic tensions abating.