URUMQI, China, July 5 (Reuters) – Chinese security forces kept a wary watch on Monday on a far-western city that erupted in deadly ethnic violence a year ago, flooding the streets with paramilitary police, some armed and others in riot gear.
On July 5 last year, mobs of Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking people who have called Xinjiang their homeland, attacked hundreds of Han Chinese after a demonstration by Uighurs was broken up. At least 197 people died in the violence.
In the following days Uighurs were hunted by Han gangs shouting for vengeance. It was unclear how many people may have died in those attacks.
The streets of Urumqi were slightly quieter than on a usual, but a steady stream of people still headed to work in the city centre. Most said the memory of last year still weighed but not enough to stop them coming out.
“I’m actually very happy today because its my first day of work,” said 20 year-old Dou Huanying, heading around the city’s closed-off central square, where last year’s unrest began.
“I am not worried because I believe in China. You can see all the extra measures that the government has taken.”
Commuters in taxis, buses and on foot came under the watchful eye of thousands of new security cameras and regular patrols by riot police, armed with guns, loudspeakers, shields and helmets.
Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said they were planning protests around the world to mark the day, and repeated a call for Beijing to allow an independent probe of the riots.
“There is too big a gap between the numbers of dead China has announced and the reports we have received,” he said by telephone. “There must be an independent investigation.”
A DAY OFF
A propaganda effort to keep emotions in check matched the massive security drive, with state media promoting a push to boost economic growth that would ensure control in the restive but resource-rich and strategically-located region.
The anniversary appeared to have been kept out of regional television, radio and print news, which featured stories on ethnic unity and local issues like flooding and a new airport.
Some Uighurs in Urumqi said they had been told to stay off the streets, and taxi drivers said customers were scarcer than usual with several government offices closing.
“We’ve been given the day off, to rest at home,” said one physical education student on the eve of the anniversary.
But on the morning of the anniversary, small businesses in a Uighur neighbourhood near some of the worst rioting opened up as usual, saying they couldn’t afford to take a day off work.
Beijing has pledged faster development to ease tensions in the strategically vital area, which has rich energy deposits, borders several central Asian nations and accounts for around one-sixth of the country’s territory.
New jobs should be created within three months for about 16,000 families struggling to secure work, the region’s Communist Party boss was quoted saying in the official People’s Daily.
Urumqi city will also invest 3.5 billion yuan ($517 million) moving 200,000 families into new and renovated homes, the paper added. It did not say how the apartments or jobs would be split between Han and Uighur.
The English-language China Daily carried a more graphic account of lingering sorrow, among Han victims of the violence and their relatives, and confirmed that the government is increasing networks of informants in Uighur areas.
“Ethnic officers communicate with local residents better and can be sent into ethnic areas undercover so we can obtain intelligence,” the report quoted Li Shenhui, chief director of the city’s special police force, saying.
Around 70 percent of his expanded force of 530 officers are non-Han, the paper added. ($1 = 6.770 Yuan) (Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in Beijing)
(Editing by Sugita Katyal)