Fear in China`s Urumqi city on riot anniversary

Chinese police have installed 40,000 security cameras throughout Urumqi.

Urumqi: Police told Abdullah not to leave home on Monday`s anniversary of deadly ethnic violence in China`s Urumqi city, where the bustle belies continued deep racial divisions and fears of more unrest.

"They told us we can`t go out on July 05 and they also came around on Thursday to gather all our big knives," the 46-year-old said, drinking tea at his restaurant in the Uighur quarter.

Capital of far-western Xinjiang region, Urumqi was torn in two on July 05, 2009 as the mainly Muslim Uighur minority vented decades of resentment of Chinese rule with attacks on members of China`s dominant Han ethnic group.

Han mobs took to the streets in the following days seeking revenge. Nearly 200 people were killed and 1,700 injured in all, the government says, in the worst ethnic violence in China in decades.

China blamed "separatists" for orchestrating the unrest.

Tensions in the city again boiled over in September after a spate of syringe attacks -- which many victims blamed on Uighurs -- led to days of protests that left five people dead.

Uighurs, Xinjiang`s Turkic-speaking, central Asian people, say they live under fear of being detained on suspicion of fomenting trouble, while some Han say they are prepared for the worst if trouble breaks out again.

Authorities appeared to be bracing for the anniversary, with police conducting massive anti-riot exercises and 40,000 security cameras installed throughout the city.

Residents say security forces -- already beefed up after last year`s unrest -- have deployed in ever greater numbers in recent days and armed police were seen patrolling the city of over two million people at the weekend.

Pointing to gates authorities erected on the road where he lives to keep out outsiders, Abdullah said he feared Han mobs could go on the attack again.

"Those are going to be locked on the anniversary," he said.

Uighurs have long alleged decades of Chinese oppression and unwanted Han immigration, and while standards of living have improved, Uighurs complain most of the gains go to Hans.

"The veil came off (in the unrest). People began to realise how deeply the ethnic animosity runs between Han and Uighurs," said Dru Gladney, an expert on Uighurs at Pomona College in California.

Restaurants and shops in the city were open and busy at the weekend. Mosques were packed for Friday prayers in the Uighur quarter, with some faithful spilling onto the pavement.

At one mosque, Muslim men prayed in the shadow of a large sign urging people to oppose separatism and "Uphold the unity of the motherland", as armed riot police watched.

Text-messaging services, overseas calls and the Internet -- cut off amid the violence because of fears they could be used to fuel it -- have gradually been restored, although some Uighur-language websites remain blocked.

Many Han said the situation was back to normal, adding the police presence would prevent more unrest on Monday, but the wounds and fear are just below the surface.

One Han Chinese man surnamed Wang who owns a drinks stall near the city centre said he would be on his guard on Monday.

Bureau Report

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