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China Muslims riot, 10 die - The Telegraph
John Leicester 11 February 1997 Title : China Muslims riot, 10 die
Author : John Leicester
Publication : The Telegraph
Date : February 11, 1997

Chinese police fired warning shots over crowds of young Muslims who beat people to death and torched cars during pro-independence riots in far west China, a police official said today.

The riots last Wednesday and Thursday were the worst to hit Yining, in the restive province of Xinjiang, since the 1949 Communist takeover, said the officer with the Yining city police.

He said 10 people, including Chinese and members of local ethnic groups, were killed and that others, including police officers, were injured. Some of those killed were beaten to death, said the officer reached by telephone from Beijing.

Ming Pao, a Hong Kong daily, said more than 10 Chinese were killed and their bodies set on fire.

The police officer said security forces arrested 400 to 500 people, some of whom were later released. "Three cars were set on fire and the police fired shots into the air to calm the crowds," he said. "It's been put down," the officer added.

He said the rioters were Uighurs, Xinjiang's Muslim majority, demanding independence for the region. Clashes are periodically reported in Xinjiang, where the Turkic-speaking Uighurs face an influx of ethnic Chinese.

"There was a protest... It was illegal," said an official with Xinjiang's provincial government, who gave his surname, Liu. "Illegal protests are curbed." Liu, reached in Urumqi, Xinjiang's provincial capital, also said calm had been restored in Yining, near the Kazakhstan border, 500 kilometers from Urumqi.

Liu said that because of the Chinese New Year holiday he had no more details. Ming Pao quoted an unidentified Chinese man in Yining as saying 1,000 Muslims, mostly aged 17 and 18, beat up, killed and burned their victims before the police quashed the violence.

Ismail Cengiz, the secretary general of a pro-independence Uighur group based in Istanbul, Turkey, claimed that 200 Muslim rioters and about 100 Chinese soldiers were killed. The report could not be confirmed.

Cengiz, a Uighur, said the riots started when Chinese security forces arrested a group of women reading prayers in a house in Yining on February 4, a Muslim holy night. Rioters then marched on the police station, said Cengiz, of the East Turkestan Immigrants Association.

The Uighurs had their own republic of East Turkestan from 1944 to 1949. Xinjiang is now one of five autonomous regions of China.

Covering one-sixth of China, Xinjiang has a population of 16.6 million, of whom 38 per cent are ethnic Chinese, according to Chinese figures.

Chinese authorities acknowledge there is unrest in the region. In a review of 1996, Abdulahat Abdurixit, chairman of the Xinjiang regional government, claimed successes in fighting separatists and vowed continued crackdowns.

"We severely attacked enemy forces' crazed violent activities, annihilating the enemy's effectiveness," he said in a January 25 speech to Xinjiang's legislature.