Police on alert in China ahead of riot anniversary

BEIJING — Teams of police armed with guns and batons patrolled streets in the western region of Xinjiang on Sunday, part of stringent security precautions put in place ahead of the one-year anniversary of China’s worst ethnic violence in decades.

Though visitors were able to travel freely in the traditionally Muslim region, their bags were checked at airports, train stations and bus stops, as well as government offices, said a receptionist surnamed Fang at the Yilong Hotel in the regional capital of Urumqi.

SWAT teams were patrolling the streets in groups of about 10, she said, some of them armed.

Long-standing tensions between Xinjiang’s minority Uighurs and majority Han Chinese migrants flared into open violence in Urumqi one year ago. The government said 197 people were killed in the violence, triggered by the deaths of Uighur (pronounced WEE-gur) factory workers the country’s south.

After the July 5 bloodshed, the government suspended the region’s Internet, international telephone and text messaging links to the outside world for more than half a year. Beijing — which accused overseas Uighur groups of plotting the violence, something exile groups deny — arrested hundreds of people and sentenced about two dozen to death in the aftermath.

Rights groups, including Amnesty International, said Uighurs who fled China after the unrest reported excessive use of force, mass arrests, enforced disappearances and ill treatment in detention.

“Instead of stifling inquiry, blaming outside agitators and generating fear, the Chinese government should use the anniversary to launch a proper investigation, including into the Uighur community’s long-simmering grievances that contributed to the unrest,” Catherine Baber, Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific deputy director, said in a statement.

China’s leaders say all ethnic groups are treated equally and point to the billions of dollars in investment that has modernized Xinjiang, a strategically vital region with significant oil and gas deposits.

But authorities have been accused of alienating the Uighurs, Turkic Muslims who are ethnically and linguistically distinct from the Han majority, with tight restrictions on cultural and religious expression and nonviolent dissent.

Many Uighurs say they suffer discrimination in jobs and cannot get loans and passports.

Xinjiang’s public security bureau said in a statement Sunday that residents were going about their business as usual, following campaigns to seize illegal weapons and explosives and increased security in areas with higher rates of crime. It did not give details.

A government-run website, xjpeace.cn, said all vacations for Urumqi police officers were canceled from June 20 to July 20. It said the police department had launched an “all-out” campaign for 30 days to crack down on “all kinds of criminal activities and firmly prevent violence.”

The department also dispatched 1,000 extra officers to local police stations to help patrol the city, it said.

“We have confidence and we totally have the ability to maintain stability in Xinjiang,” Maj. Gen. Qi Baowen, chief of the Xinjiang paramilitary police, was quoted as saying by the China News Agency.

Paramilitary troops flooded the region and restored order following the violence, and their key task now is to “help build a harmonious Xinjiang,” Qi said.

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