World Bulletin / News Desk
Chinese protesters on Thursday took to the streets, beating Uighurs after blaming them on alleged syringe attacks in the capital, witnesses said.
China confirmed the unrest, saying "more than 1,000 people protested in the capital of China's far-west Xinjiang region on Thursday."
While the number of demonstrators in the regional capital, Urumqi, was hard to verify, some witnesses said they had seen ethnic Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people native to the region, being beaten up by majority Han Chinese.
A resident said he had seen a group of Han Chinese protestors beating up an ethnic Uighur they suspected of carrying out attacks with syringes, but he was rescued by police and taken to hospital.
State media said police have detained 15 people for the stabbing attacks that have increased ethnic tensions in the capital, Urumqi, which saw Uighur protests in July.
Four of the 15 detained people have been formally arrested.
Rumours of AIDS patients attacking pedestrians with hypodermic needles have previously swept China, but were later shown to be unfounded. State media did not say how many people had been stabbed in the reported attacks.
A doctor in Urumqi said the number may be as high as 1,000, but he could not confirm that. He had not personally treated any victims.
Nobody had been infected with anything or poisoned by the stabbings in Urumqi, the China Daily said on its website, citing the Xinhua news agency.
Uyghur demonstrators took the streets in Urumqi on July 5 to protest against Han Chinese attacks on Uyghurs workers at a factory in south China in June which left two Uyghurs dead. Hans in Urumqi sought bloody revenge two days later.
A video appeared showing Chinese lynchings that sparked Uyghur protests. Exiled Uyghur leaders said the protests were peaceful until security forces overreacted with deadly force.
Many Uyghurs resent the Han Chinese rule, complaining they're marginalised economically and politically in their own land, while having to tolerate a rising influx of Han Chinese migrants.
"Many Uighurs attacked"
A visitor to Urumqi, contacted by Reuters, said the atmosphere was tense, with many ethnic Han Chinese citizens blaming the stabbings on Uighurs.
Xinhua said victims came from nine ethnicities, including both Uighurs and Han Chinese.
The Hong Kong newspaper said 400 people had been injured by attackers who immediately fled. Most of the victims only realised they had been stabbed after the attacker had vanished.
Another witness said by telephone that she had seen many protesters in the street near the centre of the city, but did not give an estimate of their numbers.
The protests are occurring during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Pictures showed groups of people, apparently Han Chinese, marching through the streets, some waving Chinese flags.
Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress said local sources had told him 10 Uighurs had been injured in the new protest, and some shops were attacked.
"I think it's the government purposefully letting the Han protest to give them an excuse to beat up Uighurs. They intentionally want to create problems between the Han and the Uighurs," he said by telephone.
"The Uighurs are in a terrible position, especially now that it's Ramadan," he added, referring to the Muslim fasting month.
He repeated a call for the United Nations to lead an independent investigation into rights abuses in East Turkistan.
More than 1,000 people protested in the capital, Xinhua reported, confirming earlier claims of unrest.
The protest in Urumqi began in the morning over claims that residents had been attacked with syringes and "more than 1,000 people started to gather", a police officer told Xinhua. The report did not identify the officer.
The report said protesters gathered in a neighbourhood called Xiaoximen, and there were also gatherings near a cinema and a wholesale market.
Some of the demonstrators were calling for Xinjiang's Communist Party chief, Wang Lequan, to step down, the first witness said. Wang has held the office for 14 years.
The protests happened at a highly sensitive time for China, as it gears up to celebrate in less than a month the 60th anniversary of the Communist Party coming to power, which has been accompanied by a nationwide security clampdown.
Meanwhile, human rights groups accuse Beijing of using claims of "terrorism" as an excuse to crack down on peaceful pro-independence sentiment and expressions of Uyghur identity.
East Turkistan, which has 8 million Uyghurs, borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, has abundant oil reserves and is China's largest natural gas-producing region.