Women in flowered headscarves scuffled with armed police Tuesday in a fresh protest in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, where at least 156 people have been killed and more than 1,400 arrested in the area's worst ethnic violence in decades.
About 200 Uighurs blocked a street, some screaming that their husbands and children had been arrested in the massive crackdown on members of the Muslim minority by Chinese authorities since the violence started Sunday in the Xinjiang capital.
The incident played out in front of reporters who were being taken by authorities around the city to see the charred aftermath of the riots. Riot police were at one end of the street, and paramilitary police at the other.
One woman said her husband was taken away and she would rather die than live without him.
As they marched down the street, paramilitary police with sticks marched toward them and pushed the crowd back. A woman fell. The brief scuffle ended when the police retreated. More police with assault rifles and tear gas guns took up positions on the other side of the crowd.
The women stayed in the street, pumping their fists in the air and wailing. Meanwhile, police tried to weed the men out of the crowd, herding them down a side street. Two boys ran out of an alley, and a policeman barked "Go home" and grabbed one around the neck, pushing him.
The 90-minute protest ended when the women walked back into a market area without resistance. Police also tried to shepherd the journalists away.
The new protest came after state media said Tuesday that police had arrested 1,434 suspects for their roles in Sunday's riot.
The violence does not bode well for China's efforts to calm long-simmering ethnic tensions between the minority Uighur people, largely Muslim, and the ethnic Han Chinese in Xinjiang — a sprawling region three times the size of Texas that shares borders with Pakistan, Afghanistan and other Central Asian countries.
Many Uighurs haven't been wooed by China's rapid economic development, which has attracted large numbers of Han — China's ethnic majority — into Xinjiang. Some want independence, while others feel they're being marginalized in their homeland.
There were no independent figures on the ethnic breakdown of the casualties in the rioting. Xinhua quoted Li Yi, head of the publicity department of the Communist Party in Xinjiang, as saying Tuesday that 129 men and 27 women died. Li said 1,080 people were hurt in the rioting.
The unrest in Urumqi began Sunday after 1,000 to 3,000 protesters gathered at the People's Square and protested the June 25 deaths of Uighur factory workers killed in a riot in southern China. Xinhua said two died; other sources put the figure higher.
Internet and social networking reports on the incident had raised tensions in Xinjiang over the last two weeks. Mobile phone service and the social networking site Twitter have now been blocked, and Internet links were cut or slowed down.
A nonviolent protest by 200 people Monday was broken up in a second city, Kashgar, and the official Xinhua News Agency said police had evidence that demonstrators were trying to organize more unrest in Kashgar, Yili and Aksu. It said police had raided several groups plotting unrest in Dawan township in Urumqi, as well as at a former race course that is home to a transient population.
The government often says the Uighurs should be grateful for the roads, railways, schools, hospitals and oil fields it has been building in Xinjiang, a region known for scorching deserts and snowy mountain ranges.
But Uighurs have said the government limits their religious freedom. After a series of deadly attacks in the region during the Beijing Olympics last year, overseas Uighur rights groups accused the government of mass arrests, which police deny. Several local governments also cracked down during the Muslim month of Ramadan, ordering government employees, teachers and students not to fast and increasing surveillance of mosques.
Similar tensions exist in Tibet, where a violent protest last year left many Tibetan communities living under clamped-down security ever since.
Uighurs frequently compare their persecution to that imposed on Tibet, but say their cause is not as well known because they lack a Dalai Lama to publicize their cause.
But one spokeswoman, the exiled Xinjiang Muslim Rebiya Kadeer, called a news conference in Washington on Monday to refute accusations by the Chinese government that she orchestrated the riots.
Kadeer, now president of the World Uyghur Congress and Uyghur American Association, said she learned from Web sites of protests planned by Uighurs, and she called her brother to urge him and other family members to stay away.
The real problem, she said, is brutal repression of Uighurs by the government.
"Any Uighur who dares to express the slightest protest, however peaceful, is dealt with by brutal force," Kadeer said.
She condemned "the violent actions of some of the Uighur demonstrators" said she and her organizations mourn the loss of life of both Uighurs and Han Chinese, but she estimated that more than 90 percent of those killed have been Uighurs.
Associated Press Writer Matthew Barakat in Washington contributed to this report.© Wire reports