More Than 150 Dead Amid Rioting In Western China

Tensions are running high in the western Chinese city of Urumqi, where at least 156 people have been killed in some of the region's worst ethnic violence in decades. Protesters armed with clubs defied police and marched through the streets on Tuesday.

Morning Edition host Renee Montagne spoke Tuesday with NPR correspondent Anthony Kuhn, who is covering the unrest in Urumqi.

Renee Montagne: Anthony, tell us what's happening now in the city.

Anthony Kuhn: I'm right in the middle of a big Chinese Han neighborhood. I've been near the city government and other government offices. And a lot of people around me are carrying knives and swords and clubs and pipes and hammers. And what they're telling us is that they're afraid of another Uighur attack. They are angry at the violence that happened on Sunday night. And they are somewhat afraid that the government and the police will not protect them. So they are banding together to drive off any possible attacks. And basically that means that there is a lot of fear of a basic breakdown of law and order in this city. And it says a lot about what the government is facing between these two very uneasy ethnic groups.

Now the death toll is somewhere above 150 at this point, but it is not all Uighur Chinese who were killed. Is there an ethnic breakdown?

Well, I've heard from one official that of those killed only 30 were Uighurs, the rest were Han and other ethnic groups. But it suggests that the Uighurs killed were in the minority.

So, does it tell us something else about the actual fighting — who's going after whom?

Right now, what we saw today, were some peaceful protests by some Uighur demonstrators. They were protesting the arrests of friends and relatives by the police. There have been over 1,000 arrests and those are continuing. Now, the government tried to organize us to go see the protests, but the police drove us off before we could really come into contact with any of the demonstrators. So the police are very tense about the situation. More tense than the government that is trying to channel and organize the media message that goes out.

So, just briefly again, it is not clear who is responsible for all the deaths?

What we do not know is how many people were killed by paramilitary troops and riot police and how many were killed by protesters. That has not come out yet.

Tell us how you reporters are being treated as you try to cover that violence?

The government has responded by setting a press center and they tried to organize reporters to go to the scene of these protests. But police would not let us talk to the protesters. I went independently of the group, and so police dragged me down to the police station and questioned me for a couple of hours.

And right at the moment you're on the street?

That's correct. I'm on the street.

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