Tension, death toll mounts in China riots

China riots worsen.
Ethnic riots in China's western Xinjiang region have escalated, killing more than 150 people.

Protests are spreading beyond Urumqi, the capital of China's Xinjiang region, where at least 156 people have been killed and more than 800 injured in rioting.

Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Id Kah Mosque in Xinjiang's ancient city of Kashgar on Monday.

Demonstrators and police reportedly shouted at each other, but there were no violent clashes like those seen in Urumqi.

The protesters say that they initially took to the streets to demand an investigations into an earlier incident when Uighur workers were bashed to death at a toy factory in southern China.

A protest of about 1,000 people turned into a street battle, and authorities are saying the protest was deliberately orchestrated to become a violent conflict by forces outside of China.

Xinjiang chief of police Liu Yaohua made a rare comment on the riots, calling the unrest a "beat-up".

"On the 26th of June in Shaoguan City of Guangdong province, some staff from Xinjiang had a brawl with local staff. This is just an ordinary public security case which has been properly solved," he said.

"After the brawl, the World Uighur Congress has made great efforts to slander our policies on ethnic groups and religions.

"It has tried to beat this up in order to create a disturbance.

"Some people inside China have also stirred things up on the internet with ulterior motives."

According to Chinese police, there are also "clues of efforts to organise unrest" in Aksu City.

Nur Bekri, who chairs Xinjiang's regional government, has vowed to smash any more conflict.

A large police presence enforcing a curfew on the streets has ensured a quiet night on the streets of Urumqi.

It is still unclear who most of the dead in that city are - whether they are Han Chinese who were attacked by the crowd, Chinese police, or local Uighur protesters shot by the authorities.

There is sensitivity everywhere in the Uighur regions and the anguish can be felt on both sides of the ethnic divide there.

Most days this does not explode into violence but the local Uighurs, who look and sound more like Turks, are not happy about the way things are being conducted there.

The Uighurs are not even the majority of the population any more, making up less than 50 per cent in what they considered to be their own homeland.

Many of them want more autonomy, some even want independence and are prepared to go to great lengths - including violence - to achieve this.

The key thing for Chinese authorities is that the province borders Pakistan and Afghanistan.

If the separatists who are prepared to use violence were able to link up with mujahideen-type figures in Afghanistan, armed insurgents could encourage a more bloody conflict in western China.

Meanwhile a key activist living outside of China has denied orchestrating the violent clashes.

Exiled businesswoman and activist Rebiya Kadeer is seen by some ethnic Uighurs as their de-facto leader overseas.

But 62-year-old Ms Kadeer, from Washington, has denied that she is to blame.

According to Reuters, she said she called her brother when she learned of the violence in Xinjiang Province to warn him to stay away from it.

"A call I made to my brother does not mean I organised the whole event," she said.

Ms Kadeer has lived in exile in the United States since 2005, after spending years in Chinese gaols for organising separatist activities.

By China correspondent Stephen McDonell for AM

AM | abc.net.au/am
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