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14 July 2009 

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Race Relations in Urumqi Face Uncertain Future

14 July 2009

Tensions still remain between Han Chinese and Uighur Muslims following last week's violence in Urumqi, the capital of China's far-western Xinjiang region.  
Damage from riots in Xinjiang region
Damage from riots in Xinjiang region

Chinese authorities say 184 people were killed in the unrest, 137 of them were ethnic Han. Some Han and Uighur people insist the riots were an aberration in an otherwise harmonious interracial city, but other Uighurs accuse authorities of longstanding discrimination against ethnic minority Muslims

Last week's widespread ethnic violence remains a fresh wound in this diverse city of 2 million people.

Many say the Uighur led riots, that began July 5, were the actions of a small group of troublemakers and do not reflect the attitudes of average Urumqi residents.

Maimaiti Aili is a Uighur man who owns a dry foods store on the edge of the Grand Bazaar.

He says the riots will not affect relations with his Han friends.

Aili explained, "On the day of the riots a lot of Han suppliers called me to see if I was safe."

Lili, a retired Han woman, agrees and has this to say, "Uighur-Han relations are really good. I like to join in activities for retirees, like dance classes. Lots of minorities participate in these activities too, including Uighurs. They come to our house, we go to their house. They are also really angry."

The image of racial harmony in Urumqi is undercut by the government's need to deploy thousands of Chinese troops to bring quiet to the city's streets.

Authorities arrested over 1,400 Uighurs following the riots.

Since Sunday, residents are required to carry their identity cards to comply with police checks.
Men unable to enter mosque
Men unable to enter mosque

Mosques were closed, including for Friday prayers.

That day local Uighur authorities told people to pray at home.

At this mosque where thousands usually come to worship on Fridays, men who arrived ready to pray were unable to enter. They watched as soldiers patrolled from the minaret.

Walking through Uighur neighborhoods, people say they are still afraid to leave their communities, both because of Han attacks and getting arrested by authorities. Many are too fearful to be interviewed on camera.

This 38-year-old Uighur woman was only willing to be filmed if her identity would be protected. She says Chinese authorities discriminate against Uighurs because of their ethnicity and religion.

She says, "China doesn't support our religion's customs and lifestyle, like women covering their face, or men wearing a hat or having a beard. Just for this they will arrest us."

The anonymous woman also accuses the Chinese media of downplaying Uighur injuries and deaths.
Chinese Police Patrolling in Xinjiang region
Chinese Police Patrolling in Xinjiang region

She claims, "Lots of young Uighur people died on the 6th and 7th, but the government doesn't make it public or broadcast this news."

China's official death toll from the riots now stands at 184, 137 of whom were ethnic Han.

There is no indication if this number includes the days following July 5 when Han mobs carried out revenge attacks on Uighurs.

The imam of the Liu Daowan mosque Obul Hashim Haxim, who is also a Chinese parliament member, told reporters the rioters were not acting in the spirit of Islam.  

When asked if Uighurs were treated unfairly in China, he firmly disagreed.

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