Stabbing of Uygur worker sparks fears of ethnic unrest

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 09 January, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 09 January, 2010, 12:00am

The atmosphere in Shenzhen is tense after a Han man stabbed a Uygur restaurant worker to death, in an echo of the ethnic clash at a Guangdong factory last summer that triggered the bloodiest riots in Xinjiang in decades.

While it is still too soon to know the true impact of the latest incident, the authorities immediately tightened security around the neighbourhood yesterday, chopping down trees near the restaurant to install surveillance cameras.

Police arrested seven Han men who were present when the stabbing took place. They all worked for a security company.

Shenzhen's government also deployed police officers and two cars to carry out round-the-clock surveillance outside the restaurant to prevent any possible unrest.

The case again highlighted tensions between Han and Uygur ethnic groups, which remain high almost six months after the riots in Urumqi .

The owner of the Xinjiang restaurant in Futian district, a Uygur who refused to be named, said he would close his business and take all the Uygurs working there back to Xinjiang.

The restaurant has been open for many years and was a popular eatery in the neighbourhood until the riots.

'I can't say the suspect was targeting Uygurs. But this is a traumatising experience for me. We will return to Xinjiang once police finish their questioning,' he said.

Hongtaide Property Management Company, which employs the seven Han men, has sacked all of them for fear of retaliation by Uygurs.

'We will never hire them again ... even though some of them may prove to be innocent,' said a manager from the company who refused to be named. 'The case is very sensitive, especially after the Xinjiang riots last July. We'll remain watchful in the coming days over possible retaliation by Uygurs.'

The stabbing took place at the Silu Xinjiang Barbecue Restaurant on Wednesday night. Witnesses said the seven security guards were having dinner there at the time. One of them quarrelled with a 25-year-old Uygur worker, surnamed Tursun, after the latter refused to lend him a cigarette lighter.

It soon turned into a brawl and the other guards joined in the fight. One security guard, 37, a Sichuan native surnamed Dong, took out a folding knife and stabbed Tursun. Tursun was confirmed dead at Futian People's Hospital.

Police arrested Dong and six others, who are aged between 21 and 37, on Thursday morning, Shenzhen police said in a statement.

Shopkeepers near the restaurant said that while the Uygur waiters often quarrelled with their Han customers, there had been no serious incidents. They said several dozen Uygurs, mostly the owners' relatives, friends and former employees, came to the restaurant on Thursday to express their support.

The shopkeepers, who are all Han, said people had become more cautious about forming friendships with Uygurs after last year's violence.

In June, a fight between Uygur and Han workers at a factory in Shaoguan left two Uygur workers dead and 118 injured. It was a trigger for rioting by the two ethnic groups in Urumqi in July that left almost 200 people dead.

Security remains tight in Xinjiang, with internet and telephone services extremely limited for most of the region's 20 million people.