HONG KONG—New protests have erupted in the northwestern city of Urumqi, less than two months after deadly ethnic rioting there, witnesses say.
Witnesses say hundreds of majority Han Chinese assembled Thursday in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), to protest worsening security in the city.
A series of unexplained stabbings using hypodermic syringes in the city appears to have sparked the protests. Some protesters demanded the resignation of XUAR Party Secretary Wang Lequan.
Rioting broke out in Urumqi on July 5 among members of the region's main Uyghur ethnic group who targeted Han residents.
Nearly 200 people were killed and 1,700 injured in the rioting and subsequent crackdown by security forces.
“The Han Chinese are protesting—the Uyghurs have been using syringes to attack Han Chinese recently in Urumqi’s supermarkets,” one resident said in a telephone interview.
Local media said 476 people, almost all Han, had sought treatment for syringe stabbings in recent weeks.
The official Xinhua news agency said 15 people had been arrested over the stabbings, four of whom have already been prosecuted.
The protests come at a sensitive time for Chinese authorities, less than one month before the 60th anniversary of Communist rule on Oct. 1.
Another resident set the number of demonstrators at up to 4,000, although that figure couldn’t be corroborated.
“I just watched them pass by. I’m afraid to go out so I’m just standing on my balcony, watching,” the resident said.
Another resident who gave only her surname, Hua, said attacks Wednesday had occurred around the city’s south gate and smaller west gate.
“Some Uyghur senior citizens attacked Han Chinese with contaminated syringes. Most of the victims are elderly women,” she said.
“A local newspaper says about 400 people were attacked. I also heard that some Uyghurs attacked Han Chinese with sulfate.”
Another resident surnamed Cai challenged the official numbers of victims.
“It should be more than 400 victims, as there were about 70 or 80 people being attacked yesterday in one location,” he said.
“Uyghurs used syringes that were contaminated with pesticide, drugs, and sulfate to attack people. All government employees in the city were mobilized to go out on the streets trying to catch the attackers, but this isn’t a long-term strategy,” he said.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, was skeptical.
“It’s absolutely a rumor. Several hundred Han Chinese attacked Uyghurs with sticks Thursday morning and more than a dozen Uyghurs were injured,” he said.
Calls for resignation
Mr. Li, a Han Chinese in Urumqi, said several hundred Chinese have protested beginning Wednesday over the reported syringe attacks and deteriorating public safety.
“They have banners saying ‘Step down, Wang Lequan,’ and ‘The government is impotent,’” Li, an Urumqi resident, said.
“The banners are everywhere. They say the government is unable to handle the mysterious syringe attacks. They aren’t violent—they’re just protesting.”
“I walked near the Hongxu area yesterday—police were arresting a Uyghur. Several hundred [Hans] beat him. The armed police could not stop it. I saw some nearby security forces holding a needle and a syringe.”
Yang, another Chinese witness, said numerous armed police were patrolling major streets.
July 5 riots
July's deadly riots in Urumqi left 197 people dead, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Authorities have formally arrested 83 people in connection with the two-way ethnic violence, sparked July 5 after a student demonstration clashed with police, sending armed mobs from both ethnic groups out onto the city's streets.
Beijing has blamed the violence on exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer and overseas separatist groups who oppose Chinese rule in Xinjiang.
Both Kadeer and Dilxat Raxit have rejected the charge.
Uyghurs, a Tukic, mostly Muslim ethnic group, say the riots were sparked by an armed crackdown on unarmed Uyghur protesters calling for an investigation into an attack by Han Chinese on Uyghurs at the Xuri toy factory in Shaoguan, Guangdong province, the previous week.
In separate interviews, three Uyghur youths said the fighting in Shaoguan began when Han Chinese laborers stormed the dormitories of Uyghur colleagues, beating them with clubs, bars, and machetes.
The clashes began late June 25 and lasted into the early hours of the following day.
At least two people were killed and 118 injured, and witnesses said the numbers could be higher.
A number of Uyghurs have voiced anger and bitterness over the clash and accused police of doing too little to stop it.
Uyghurs in Xinjiang have long chafed under Beijing's rule, citing economic inequality, religious controls, and lack of freedom of expression in a political climate where simply talking about Uyghur independence can lead to a jail term for subversion.
Original reporting in Mandarin by Qiao Long and by RFA's Cantonese service. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Cantonese service director: Shiny Li. Translated by Jia Yuan and Shiny Li. Written for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.