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China to begin Xinjiang riot trials
Trials of 200 suspects accused of involvement in deadly July riots to start this week.
Last Modified: 24 Aug 2009 07:18 GMT

Chinese authorities have stepped up security in Urumqi ahead of the trials [AFP]

Chinese authorities are expected to begin the trials this week of some 200 people accused of involvement in last month's deadly riots in the western region of Xinjiang, according to state media.

Security was being stepped up in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi ahead of the trials, the China Daily reported on Monday, although it did not specify when the hearings would begin.

China has vowed to crack down hard on those responsible for the violence, with officials saying last month that some could face the death penalty.

The trials could again raise tensions in Xinjiang, where many among the region's native Muslim Uighurs resent the growing presence of ethnic Han Chinese and government controls on religious and cultural life.

The suspects on trial face charges including murder, arson, robbery, vandalism and "organising crowds to disrupt public order", the China Daily said.

Xinjiang and the Uighurs


Xinjiang is officially an autonomous region but in practice it is tightly controlled by Beijing.

 It is sparsely populated but has large reserves of oil, gas and minerals.

 The region's Turkic speaking Uighur population number around eight million.

 Uighur activists say migration from other parts of China is part of official effort to dilute and suppress Uighur culture in their own land.

 Uighurs say they face repression on a range of fronts, including bans on the teaching of their language.

 Uighur separatists have staged series of low-level attacks since early 1990s.

 China says Uighur separatists are terrorists and linked to al-Qaeda.

According to Chinese police 197 people, mostly ethnic Han, died in the riots which broke out on July 5.

The violence followed protests in Urumqi over the killings of two Uighurs in ethnic strife at a factory in southern China.

The clashes triggered revenge attacks from Han Chinese in the worst ethnic unrest seen in China for decades.

In its report on Monday the China Daily said a "drastic increase in security" had been ordered in Urumqi "in response to an expected mass gathering of Han and Uighur people awaiting the court verdicts".

The newspaper did not give a breakdown on how many Uighurs and how many
Han would go on trial, but it said more than 170 Uighurs and 20 Han lawyers had been assigned to the suspects.

The paper reported last week that thousands of items of physical evidence had been collected, including videos and photographs as well as bricks and clubs stained with blood.

Al Jazeera's Beijing correspondent, Melissa Chan, said that based on past experience the trials were likely to be held behind closed doors.

She said trials were intended to send a message to the domestic audience, with the government keen to be seen taking firm action against those behind the violence.

Since the riots, the government says life has largely returned to normal in Xinjiang, although officials remain wary of renewed outbreaks of unrest.

Uighur groups say China's repressive policies combined with years of mass migration to Xinjiang by Han Chinese, has stoked ethnic tensions in Xinjiang, sowing the seeds for the recent violence.

The Chinese government has blamed Uighur exiles for stoking the unrest, singling out Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur businesswoman who was jailed for years in China before being released into exile in the US, for "masterminding" the unrest.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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