Death Toll Debated In China's Rioting
Saturday, July 11, 2009
URUMQI, China -- The Yu siblings could hardly bear to look at the police snapshots of the dead -- the images so full of anger and cruelty. So they took turns sifting through them in search of their brother, who had been missing since ethnically charged riots shook this city in far western China on Sunday.
Yu Xinqing was the one who found him, victim No. 46.
Yu's elder brother, Yu Xinping, had been finishing his shift when a protest by Muslim Uighurs turned violent and some went on a rampage, attacking Han Chinese in the city. His body was mangled from multiple knife wounds and was badly burned.
"When I saw his picture, I couldn't help crying," said Yu, 35. "If you give me a gun, I will rush out and shoot all the Uighurs I meet. I won't look at them in the same way, no matter how good of an explanation there is."
Chinese authorities on Friday raised the official death count to 184 and said more than 1,000 people were injured in the rioting Sunday, making it the deadliest clash in the far western region of Xinjiang since Chinese troops arrived here 60 years ago and one of the worst in the country's modern history. Additional people were victimized in retaliatory attacks in the following days.
Of the dead, 137 were Han Chinese, 46 were Uighur and one was part of the Hui Muslim minority group. But other details are scarce.
Local officials have declined to release information about how the victims died or were hurt.
Nearly all of the 150 or so police snapshots of the dead appear to be of Han Chinese. Most have gashes or cuts on their heads. Only about 10 appear to be Uighur, at least three with apparent bullet wounds near their hearts -- a detail that lends credence to charges by Uighur leaders that Chinese national security forces fired into the crowd of protesters.
But the faces of several victims were so swollen or injured that they were unrecognizable. At least three bodies were completely burned.
Some Uighur residents of Urumqi, however, say the number of Uighur victims in the official group of pictures is low because not all of the Uighurs' bodies are being tallied. Uighurs -- members of a Turkic-speaking group that is culturally, religiously, linguistically and physically different from the Han Chinese, who make up more than 90 percent of China's population -- have long complained of government policies they say are repressive.
Leaders of Uighur exile groups say that China is grossly misrepresenting the number of people killed and that the melee occurred because security forces overreacted to what had been a peaceful protest. On Friday, Rebiya Kadeer, the Washington-based head of the World Uighur Congress, said that by her organization's tally, based on unconfirmed reports from family members and community leaders, the number of dead Uighurs could be in the thousands. The Chinese government has accused Kadeer of inciting the violence, a charge she denies.
Two Han men in Urumqi who were searching for relatives said they believe that the government might be hiding bodies in an effort to minimize the death count. In separate interviews, they said they went to all 23 hospitals in the area and checked the police pictures, but could not find their brothers, who were near the city's bazaar when the rioting began.