The initial investigation into ethnic riots that left 192 people dead in China's western Xinjiang region has been completed and arrest warrants will soon be issued, the region's chief prosecutor said Thursday.
The unrest — the worst ethnic violence China has seen in decades — began July 5 in Urumqi with a protest by Muslim Uighurs that spiraled into violence against Han Chinese, in which people were beaten and cars and buildings burned. In subsequent days, roaming groups of Han Chinese launched revenge attacks.
"The arrest warrants will be issued soon," Hamsi Mamuti, the top prosecutor for Xinjiang, was quoted as saying by the official China News Service. "The violent elements will be severely punished according to the law. The entire process will be strictly based on the law."
He said the first group of suspects had been identified, but did not give any numbers. Li Zhi, the highest-ranking Communist Party official in Urumqi, has already said some of the rioters who didn't understand what they were doing would be treated leniently, but those found guilty of the most serious crimes could be executed.
Last week, state media reported more than 1,400 people were detained in connection with the riots.
According to the official Xinhua News Agency, the Communist Party in Xinjiang, of which Urumqi (pronounced uh-ROOM-chee) is the capital, raised the death toll to 192 from 184 reported earlier, and said 1,721 people were wounded in the violence, with 881 people still in hospitals, 66 of them in critical condition. A total of 331 shops and 627 vehicles were burned in the unrest.
Uighurs dispute death figures
Chinese authorities have said most of those killed were Han Chinese, though Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers) say they believe many more of their community were killed in the ensuing government crackdown.
Urumqi was calm Thursday, although security was tight, with a high number of security forces on the streets, especially near Uighur areas.
Uighurs, who number 9 million in Xinjiang, have complained about an influx of Han Chinese and government restrictions on their Muslim religion. They accuse the Han of discrimination and the Communist Party of trying to erase their language and culture.
Han Chinese, many of whom were encouraged to emigrate to Xinjiang by the government, believe Uighurs should be grateful for the region's rapid economic development, which has brought schools, airports and oil wells to the sprawling, rugged region the size of Texas.