Urumqi, China China released a breakdown Saturday of the death toll from communal rioting, saying most of the 184 killed were from the Han Chinese majority — an announcement that only fueled suspicion among Muslim Uighurs that many more of their people died.
Identifying the ethnic background of the dead for the first time since last Sunday’s unrest in western Xinjiang, the government’s Xinhua News Agency cited provincial officials as saying 137 victims were Han while 46 were Uighurs and one was a Hui, another Muslim group.
Uighurs on the streets of the Xinjiang capital, Urumqi, and from exile activist groups disputed the new figures, citing persistent rumors that security forces fired on Uighurs during Sunday’s protest and in following days.
“I’ve heard that more than 100 Uighurs have died, but nobody wants to talk about it in public,” said one Uighur man who did not want to give his name because the city remains tense and security forces are everywhere.
Dispelling such suspicions has become another challenge for the government as it tries to calm the troubled region and win over critics in the international community. Turkey — whose people share an ethnic and cultural bond with the Uighurs — has been particularly critical with the prime minister likening the situation to genocide.
Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers) have repeatedly told foreign journalists in Urumqi that police shot at crowds. The accounts have been difficult to verify, except in isolated cases, making it unlikely that Uighur deaths numbered 500 or more as some exile activists have claimed. Security forces have shown discipline in dealing with agitated and angry crowds of Uighurs and Han in the days following the riot.
Nearly a week after last Sunday’s disturbance, officials have yet to make public key details about the riots and what happened next. How much force police used to re-impose order is unclear. Xinhua’s brief report, which raised the death toll by nearly 30, did not say whether all were killed Sunday or afterward when vigilante mobs ran through the city with bricks, clubs and cleavers.
China’s communist leadership has ordered forces across Xinjiang to mobilize to put down any unrest, adding a note of official worry that violence might spread elsewhere. The state-run China News Service said that authorities last Monday arrested an unspecified number of people plotting to instigate a riot in Yining, a city near Xinjiang’s border with Kazakhstan.
In Urumqi, some Chinese held funeral rites for their dead Saturday. At a makeshift funeral parlor along an alley, friends paid respects at an altar with photos of the dead: a couple and her parents, all beaten to death in the riot.
Security forces patrolled the city in thick numbers. Paramilitary police carrying automatic weapons and riot shields blocked some roads leading to one largely Uighur district. White armored personnel carriers and open-bed trucks packed with standing troops rumbled along main avenues.