Ethnic tensions and resentments have been building for decades in China’s northwestern Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, but few would have predicted the deadly violence that erupted in the regional capital, Urumqi, on July 5, 2009.
What began as a peaceful protest on July 5 by Uyghurs in Urumqi turned into a deadly riot after police used violence against the protesters. At least 197 people died, by official count, most of them Han Chinese.
In the days that followed, groups of Han retaliated with violence against Uyghurs in Urumqi, police conducted sweeping arrests of Uyghur men, and Uyghur women marched in protest against the detentions. The government in Beijing blamed the violence on “outside forces” and imposed an Internet blackout on the entire Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region that would last for 10 months.
Strict information controls prevented a clear picture of what happened in Urumqi from emerging for some time. But photos and video of the events in Urumqi paint a picture of a painful ethnic divide that has yet to be resolved.