More Than 150 Dead Amid Rioting In Western China Tensions are running high in the western Chinese city of Urumqi, where more than 150 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.
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More Than 150 Dead Amid Rioting In Western China

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More Than 150 Dead Amid Rioting In Western China

More Than 150 Dead Amid Rioting In Western China

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In Western China today, armed protestors are marching through the streets with pipes, sticks and meat cleavers in hands in the worst ethnic violence in decades. On the one side, majority Han Chinese attacked food stalls by Muslims, this in reaction to ongoing protests by the minority Muslim Uighur Chinese.

NPR's Anthony Kuhn is in the city at the center of the ethnic turmoil, Urumqi. And Anthony, tell us what's happening now in this city.

ANTHONY KUHN: Well, I'm right in the middle of a big Han Chinese 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're angry at the violence that happened on Sunday night.

And they're 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's a lot at 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.

MONTAGNE: 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?

KUHN: Well, I have heard official that of those killed, only 30 were Uighurs, the rest were Han and other ethnic groups. But it suggests that Uighurs that were killed were in the minority.

MONTAGNE: So does it tell us something else about the actual fighting, I mean, who's going after whom?

KUHN: Well, right now, what we saw today were some peaceful protests by 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 this situation, more tense than the government that is trying to channel and organize the media message that goes out.

MONTAGNE: So is there - just briefly again, it's not clear who is responsible for all the deaths.

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

MONTAGNE: Tell us how you reporters are being treated as you try to cover that violence.

KUHN: The government has responded by setting up 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 protestors. I went independently of the group, and so police dragged me down to the police station and questioned me for a couple hours.

MONTAGNE: And right at the moment, you're on the street?

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

MONTAGNE: NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Urumqi, China. And we'll be talking to you as this story develops, Anthony.

KUHN: Very good. Thank you very much, Renee.

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