The latest round of fighting was sparked by rumors that Uighurs were stabbing Hans with syringes filled with poison or HIV virus. On September 3, 10,000 Hans demonstrated in the city of Urumqi, the provincial capital, saying they were not getting police protection and demanding the firing of the provincial Communist Party chief. Five people were killed.
Beijing subsequently fired the police chief and Urumqi party head. All demonstrations without permits were banned and Internet service cut off.
Hans are the dominant nationality in China. But they are relative newcomers in Xinjiang Province, a traditional homeland of the Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking people who practice Islam.
Most Hans have migrated to Xinjiang in the last 50 years for jobs in the oil, natural gas, and coal industries and on state-run farms, where they are favored over Uighurs for employment. A similar migration of Hans to Lhasa, Tibet, has been encouraged by the Stalinist bureaucracy in Beijing with the aim of ensuring its control there.
In Urumqi, Hans now outnumber Uighurs by three to one. As Beijing has developed the western region, increasingly by capitalist methods over the last two decades, the inequality between Hans and Uighurs has become more glaring. Most Uighurs are farmers in the countryside. Their average disposable income is about one-third that of residents of Urumqi, who earn about $1,800 a year, according to Reuters.
The government has announced that 25 people are charged with syringe attacks. Police have threatened to impose the death penalty for those convicted, reported the Chinese news agency Xinhua. The report added that those who deliberately concoct and spread false information about needle stabbings risk five years in jail.
But many questions remain about what actually happened and to what degree the alleged needle incidents were political in nature. According to Xinhua, one of those arrested was a Uighur drug addict who allegedly fought off arrest with a syringe. Two others are accused of attempting to rob a taxi driver, threatening him with a needle.
Days after reports of the attacks in the state media, credible evidence seems in short supply, wrote the September 8 Toronto Star. The government said more than 500 people claimed to have been attacked, but only 170 show any signs of injury.
Some of those who said they had been stabbed actually suffered from mosquito stings, reported Xinhua.
The countrys highest-ranking security official, Meng Jianzhu, charged that Uighur separatists were behind the attacks. Beijing routinely accuses Uighurs who protest their oppression of having connections to a small Uighur organization called the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, which Beijing says has ties to al-Qaeda.
In June a rumor that Uighur factory workers in Guandong Province had raped a Han woman led to an attack by Han workers. Two Uighurs were killed. The rape story turned out to be false.
When Uighur students organized a march in Urumqi to condemn the factory killings it turned into several days of fighting between Hans and Uighurs, leaving at least 186 dead. More than two hundred people, mostly Uighurs, are awaiting trial on charges stemming from that incident.
More has surfaced on the programs begun in 2002 that send Uighurs from Xinjiang to factory jobs in Guandong Province and other industrial areas. Beijing presents these programs as a kind of affirmative action, promising Uighurs they will earn much more than they can farming in Xinjiang. The July 15 Washington Post reported that the program is not voluntary, however. In the villages around the city of Kashgar in Xinjiang, residents said each family was forced to send at least one child to the programor pay a hefty fine, wrote reporter Ariana Eunjung Cha.
Cha interviewed Liu Guolin, the Han owner of a textile plant in Hebei Province that has been hiring Uighurs. The 143 women workers sent to his plant were accompanied by a cop from Xinjiang Province, who kept the women from praying in the factory or wearing headscarves. Without the policeman, I assume they would have run away from the very beginning, Liu said.
Meanwhile, Beijing has stepped up joint military exercises with Moscow supposedly aimed at terrorists in Central Asia.
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