Xinjiang calm ahead of anniversary of deadly riots

Despite appearances of peace over the capital just a day before July 5 anniversary of deadly violence, grievances among Uygurs still simmer

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 05 July, 2013, 5:54am

Four years after deadly ethnic clashes erupted in Xinjiang's Urumqi, the city appeared peaceful amid tightened security - but people's grievances remained.

The centre of the city was closely watched by police and public buses underwent strict security checks on the eve of the July 5 riot anniversary.

Squads of seven or eight People's Armed Police officers patrolled People's Square in central Urumqi yesterday, while others stood in the shade of trees.

In contrast to the scene four years ago, when hundreds of Uygur protesters gathered and chanted slogans, middle-and old-aged residents played cards under the shadows of the trees amid temperatures above 34 degrees Celsius.

Many men, who appeared to be undercover policemen, sat in the front of cars or drove around the square, while looking at passers-by with watchful eyes.

On Nanmen Square - where the then-municipal party boss, Li Zhi , spoke at the top of a police vehicle for nearly two hours on July 7, 2009, begging thousands of angry Han protesters to go home - a billboard advertising patriotism, unity and mutual help had been set up.

A bus stop has been built on the Jiefang South Road where several thousand Han people marched with knives and sticks, seeking revenge on the Uygurs, but were stopped by officers of the People's Armed Police with tear gas. Elderly women wearing red armbands sat on chairs at the bus stop yesterday, watching passers-by, while squads of armed police patrolled the area.

A Uygur who owns a grocery shop on the Xinhua South Road said his business was affected for several months after the riot in 2009, as the road was the worst-hit part of the city.

Uygurs would be regarded as terrorists after the July 5 incident, if men wore a beard or women wore a kerchief, a veil or a gown. Schools are teaching children not to believe in religion

"Uygurs would be regarded as terrorists after the July 5 incident, if men wore a beard or women wore a kerchief, a veil or a gown," he said. "Schools are teaching children not to believe in religion.

"We're so depressed and feel unable to breathe," he said.

A Uygur cadre on Xiheba Street said that, during each anniversary, he had to patrol the neighbourhood or visit residents for a whole month to ensure stability.

"Each and every migrant worker or temporary visitor must apply for a residence permit and leave his fingerprints, blood sample and photos at the police station," he said. "It's called 'creating convenience' for the people - and police can then trace them when something happens."

The street looks almost the same as four years ago, with Uygurs continuing to form the majority of residents and a mosque standing in the same place at one end.

The Rebiya plaza, named after a businesswoman who was accused of being the "mastermind" of the ethnic unrest, was closed.

Zhang Mingfu, whose younger brother died in a fire with four other relatives after a riot in the grocery store he ran in Urumqi four years ago, said there had been "no special care" from the authorities over the past years.

His brother's only immediate family member who survived the riot in 2009 was a daughter, now a 13-year-old student in middle school in Urumqi.