Image: Urumqi mosque interior
AP
A caretaker is seen walking inside a mosque in Urumqi, in western China's Xinjiang province, on Friday.
updated 7/10/2009 2:05:36 PM ET 2009-07-10T18:05:36

Several mosques in riot-hit Uruumqi opened for Friday prayers, despite notices posted earlier saying they would be closed in the wake of ethnic violence that left 184 dead.

It was not immediately clear if there was a change of policy or if the mosques were opened because crowds gathered outside them. The Friday afternoon prayers are a focal point of the week for the minority Muslim Uighurs.

At the White mosque, one of the most popular places to worship in the large Uighur neighborhood of Er Dao Qiao, about 100 men argued with guards, demanding that they be allowed in for prayers.

A Uighur policeman guarding the mosque, who would not give his name, said: "We decided to open the mosque because so many people had gathered. We did not want an incident."

Kaishar, a 23-year-old car salesman, said his heart ached when he first saw the gates to the mosque.

"There was no reason to shut the gate. They said it was for our safety but actually there is no need, nothing will happen here. On a day of prayer things are not supposed to be messed with," said Kaishar, with a red prayer mat folded under his arm.

It was not known if all the mosques across the city of 2.3 million people were opened.

Ethnic violence
Notices had been posted at the mosques saying they would be closed, and an official, who refused to give her name, said they would not be open for "the sake of public safety" after widespread ethnic violence between Uighurs (pronounced WEE-ger) and the majority Han Chinese.

Up the street a few blocks from the White mosque was the Yang Hang mosque, where in the morning a white notice was glued to the front gate saying it would be closed for prayers.

But the notice was taken down and hundreds of men were streaming into the place of worships clutching their green and red and blue prayer mats.

The scene was peaceful and there was no sign of the heavy police presence that has been patrolling the streets this week.

The violence in Urumqi (pronounced uh-ROOM-chee) began Sunday when Uighurs clashed with police while protesting deaths of Uighur factory workers in a brawl in another part of the country. The crowd then scattered throughout Urumqi, attacking Han Chinese, burning cars and smashing windows. Riot police tried to restore order, and officials said 184 people were killed and more than 1,100 were injured.

More on: Uighurs

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Video: Prayer and protest after deadly riots

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