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China raises injured toll from riots to 1,680

APTOPIX China Protest
Paramilitary police officers exercise near an armed police APC at the People's Square in Urumqi, western China's Xinjiang province, Sunday.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

China on Sunday raised the injured toll from ethnic clashes a week ago to 1,680 — one more bit in the trickle of information the government has released on the unrest in the far west, though much remains unknown.

The official Xinhua News Agency said the number of people wounded during the ethnic violence that broke out July 5 in the regional capital of Urumqi has increased by nearly 600, according to Xinjiang Governor Nur Bekri during a televised speech. He said that more than 900 of the injured remained hospitalized, and 74 "are on the verge of death."

The protest last Sunday by minority Uighurs escalated into deadly attacks on members of the Han Chinese majority. In subsequent days, large groups of Han Chinese armed themselves and roamed the streets looking for revenge. It remains unclear how many people may have been injured.

State media reported earlier in the week that the worst ethnic unrest to hit China in decades left 184 people dead, including 137 Han and 46 Uighur victims. One victim was part of the minority Hui Muslim group. Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers) have disputed those numbers, saying they believe many more of their group died in the ensuing government crackdown.

Key details still not known
Officials have yet to make public key details about the riots and what happened next, including how much force police used to re-impose order. Officials and Xinhua have not said whether all the victims were killed Sunday or in later days, when vigilante mobs ran through the city with bricks, clubs and cleavers.

Thousands of Chinese troops have flooded into Urumqi (pronounced uh-ROOM-chee) to separate the feuding ethnic groups, and a senior Communist Party official vowed to execute those guilty of murder in the rioting.

Zhou Yongkang, a member of the Communist Party's nine-man ruling Politburo, warned of further problems caused by overseas groups.

"They are attempting to stage more sabotage," Xinhua quoted him as saying during a tour of Xinjiang.

On Sunday, Urumqi remained tense as armed paramilitary police patrolled People's Square, the site of the July 5 protest, but there were no clashes.

The city's public security bureau had issued a notice late Saturday banning illegal assembly, marches and demonstrations in the western city. The notice said the situation was "basically under control" but that there was "still sporadic illegal assemblies and demonstrations in some places," Xinhua reported.

Some roads to the main market were still closed Sunday, and the market remained guarded by armed military police. An officer was teaching them simple greetings in the Uighur language.

'A sense of security'
In one of the worst-hit Uighur districts, Wang Yong was installing metal shutters at his small convenience store on Sunday. He said rioters shattered his windows and set the shop on fire, causing 30,000 to 40,000 yuan ($4,400 to $5,900) in damages.

"It is for safety that I'm installing these shutters," said Wang, who is Han Chinese. "They give me a sense of security."

A Uighur businessman who gave his name as Akbar expressed cautious optimism that the tensions will eventually subside.

"They have been afraid of Uighurs," Akbar said of the Han. "And the Uighurs are afraid of the Han people. But I'm not too worried. I think it should get better slowly."

One Uighur, 68-year-old retiree Korban Yakob, said the city now feels safe.

"I don't think anything will happen now that Friday prayers have passed," he said.

The violence broke out following a protest against the June 26 deaths of Uighur factory workers in a brawl in southern China.

China has accused Rebiya Kadeer, a 62-year-old Uighur businesswoman who lives in exile in the U.S., of instigating the riots, without providing evidence. She has denied it.

The government believes the Uighurs should be grateful for Xinjiang's rapid economic development, which has brought new schools, highways, airports, railways, natural gas fields and oil wells in the sprawling, rugged Central Asian region, three times the size of Texas.

But many of the Turkic-speaking Uighurs, with a population of 9 million in Xinjiang, accuse the dominant Han ethnic group of discriminating against them and saving all the best jobs for themselves. Many say the Communist Party is repressive and tries to snuff out their Islamic faith, language and culture.

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