China seals off Muslim town after deadly riot
February 11, 1997
Web posted at: 12:00 p.m. EST (1700 GMT)
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BEIJING (CNN) -- Chinese authorities sealed off Yining, a
town in northwestern Xinjiang province, and police searched
Tuesday for members of an illegal Islamic sect following the
worst ethnic violence to hit the predominantly Muslim region
in 50 years.
Officials and residents contacted in Yining, near China's
border with Kazakstan, maintained that all was calm, six days
after about 1,000 Muslim separatists of the Uighur ethnic
minority rampaged through the town to protest against Beijing
CNN Correspondent Rebecca MacKinnon Reports
213K/18 sec. AIFF or WAV sound
Turkic-speaking Uighurs, who live alongside other Muslim
groups and ethnic Chinese, form about half of the local
population. Ethnic Han Chinese make up roughly 40 percent of
the population. Many more Uighurs live across the border in
Kazakhstan and other neighboring central Asian countries
formed after the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Chinese police dispersed the crowd with tear gas and arrested
hundreds, but the number of people killed in last week's
rioting is still in dispute. The accounts range from no
deaths, according to a Chinese official, to an estimate of
300 given by exile groups.
How trouble started
A Yining police officer said on Monday that the Uighurs,
demanding independence, beat people to death and burned three
cars. However, a Chinese source said the rioting began after
a Uighur criminal suspect resisted arrest by Chinese police.
In Kazakhstan's capital, Almaty, a leader of the United National Revolutionary
Front of East Turkestan said Wednesday's riot was sparked by
the execution of 30 Uighurs by the authorities last week. But
an official of the bureau in charge of directing the cleanup
operation after the riot denied that report.
Last year, separatist groups held running gunbattles with
police and tried to assassinate an Islamic leader seen as
pro-Chinese. Beijing in turn ordered the Xinjiang government
to wipe out the separatists and illegal religious groups that
"(Police) have arrested several counter-revolutionaries and
they are catching more," one Han woman resident said.
"The Uighurs ... look happy because the streets are full of
them," she said in a sign of the region's ethnic divisions.
"It's just them in the streets. It's all their people."
However, Han residents said they were not afraid.
"We are not nervous because the armed police and police are
here," the woman said.
Correspondent Rebecca MacKinnon and
Reuters contributed to this report.
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