Handouts for families of 'innocent' victims

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 July, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 July, 2009, 12:00am

The Xinjiang government yesterday started handing out money to families who lost members in the ethnic clashes in Urumqi - a move apparently aimed at pacifying the grieving crowds and warding off fresh unrest.

Two days after a massive show of force restored order to the violence-torn city, local authorities started dishing out compensation in a high-profile manner - and at an unusual speed for the mainland.

'The quick reaction from the government was aimed at calming those who were most affected by the riots and providing Urumqi officials with a less hostile environment in which to deal with the aftermath,' said Zhang Dajun , a Beijing-based political commentator.

It could also help those who lost their sole income source to get by.

Li Cunxiang , whose husband was killed on Sunday, said nothing could replace her husband. But she said quick financial help from the government would be very helpful to the family through their darkest days.

'The family lost the only source of income and we still have to pay the school fees for my son,' Ms Li said.

She had few expectations of the government and said the 200,000 yuan (HK$227,000) compensation offered by the authorities would help.

'I hope they will hand over the money in time,' she said.

In a nationally televised press conference, Urumqi civil affairs official Wang Fengyun announced that the family of each 'innocent' victim would receive a one-off payment of 200,000 yuan, as well as 10,000 yuan for funeral costs.

She said the city had prepared 50 million yuan to pay for the handouts, and that about 320,000 yuan had been distributed to some victims' families by yesterday.

She also said escorts had been assigned to accompany victim's families in case they needed extra help.

More than 184 people were killed and more than 1,000 injured during the riots.

Even though the statements said only families of 'innocent victims' would receive compensation, the government appears to have made little effort in defining who is innocent and who is not.

The 'innocent' tag was used to make the plan look more legitimate, otherwise the government could not have distributed such a large amount of funds in such a short time, Mr Zhang said.

But some families said justice, not financial compensation, meant more to them.

Zhang Mingfu , whose younger brother was killed during the riot, said he was satisfied with the amount of compensation his family would be getting but insisted the government should continue to hunt down criminals.

'For the most part, we want justice to be done for my younger brother first and foremost,' he said.