China admits to shooting dead 12 Uighur rioters

Chinese police shot and killed 12 Uighur rioters in Xinjiang this month, regional governor Nuer Baikeli said on Saturday, in a rare government admission of the deaths inflicted by security forces.

In Xinjiang's worst ethnic unrest in decades, Uighurs attacked majority Han Chinese in regional capital Urumqi on July 5 after taking to the streets to protest against an ethnic clash at a factory in south China in June which left two Uighurs dead.

The violence left 197 people dead and more than 1,600 wounded, mostly Han Chinese who launched revenge attacks in Urumqi days later. About 1,000 people, mostly Uighurs, have been detained in an ensuing government crackdown.

Asked to elaborate on the casualties, the governor said most of the victims sustained head wounds after they were bludgeoned with bricks and iron rods.

Police shot dead 12 armed Uighurs attacking civilians and ransacking shops after they ignored warning shots fired into the air, said Nuer Baikeli, a Uighur.

Uighurs are a Turkic people who are largely Muslim and share linguistic and cultural bonds with Central Asia.

Of the 12, three were killed on the spot, while nine died either on their way to or after arriving at hospital.

"In any country ruled by law, the use of force is necessary to protect the interest of the people and stop violent crime. This is the duty of policemen. This is bestowed on policemen by the law," the governor said. Police exercised the "greatest restraint," he added.

On Friday Security forces armed with automatic weapons and wooden clubs fanned out in Urumqi as worshippers descended on mosques for the main Muslim day of prayer.

Muslim Uighurs heading to prayers had to pass rows of security forces, an AFP reporter witnessed, as Chinese authorities sought to prevent any repeat of the ethnic bloodshed that has blighted the city in recent weeks.

Many mosques were closed on Friday last week for the first main prayer day following unrest that broke out in the capital of China's Xinjiang region on July 5 and left at least 192 people dead.

The city's White Mosque in the Uighur district overflowed with worshippers, with many lining up prayer mats on the sidewalk outside, while around 200 paramilitary forces watched from across the road.

China | News | 2009-07-19 |