Xinjiang violence nothing to fuss about, official says

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 March, 2012, 12:00am


A top Xinjiang official and National People's Congress deputy says it is normal for an area with ethnic tensions to have rioting like the region has seen in recent years.

Li Zhi, deputy chief of the autonomous region's people's congress since 2008, made his remarks on the sidelines of the annual NPC session on Monday in response to questions about events in the region.

Li (pictured) became party chief of Urumqi, the region's capital, in November 2006, but was sacked after rioting in mid-2009 claimed an estimated 200 lives.

He argued that the Xinjiang government had not restricted the religious freedom of residents. He called the region secure despite a rampage by axe-wielding men in Yecheng that killed 20 people last week.

'This is nothing to fuss about,' Li said. 'Xinjiang is stable. Every country has rioters. Riots do not only happen in Xinjiang, but it seems that Xinjiang is considered a sensitive area. There are only a few bad people here.

'It is normal to have rioters,' he continued, noting that the United States experienced regular mass shootings. 'It would be abnormal, if we did not have rioters.'

He blamed last week's attack on a market in Yecheng that killed 13 shoppers on nine 'terrorists'. Police killed seven of the attackers and arrested the other two. The motive for the attack remains unclear.

The region, home to the mainly Muslim Uygur ethnic minority, has suffered repeated outbreaks of violence in recent years. Beijing says about 200 people died in a series of violent riots over several days in early July 2009.

Police shot dead seven Uygurs in Pishan county, Hotan, in December. Local officials again said 'terrorists' had kidnapped two shepherds and hacked to death a police officer sent to negotiate with them.

Some internet users took issue with Li's remarks.

'This official tone is too disgusting,' one microblog user wrote.

Another said: 'Mr Li, please be honest. Why is all information related to the latest attack in Yecheng blocked?'

A microblogger using a Uygur name said: 'It seems that Mr Li has not been to southern Xinjiang. I can take you there and you can see whether people can practice religious freedom there.'

Li stirred controversy in July 2009 when he stood atop a vehicle and led Han Chinese protesters in chanting slogans denouncing exiled Uygur leader Rebiya Kadeer, whom Beijing accused of inciting violence, although he also persuaded the protesters to disperse.