URUMQI, China – The Chinese government on Saturday raised the death toll from the communal rioting in western Xinjiang to 184 and issued the first ethnic breakdown of the dead, showing that most of those killed were from China's Han majority.
The official Xinhua News Agency, citing provincial officials, said 137 victims in the riot were Han while 46 were mainly Muslim Uighurs and one was a Hui, another Muslim group.
The new details, however, failed to quell suspicions on the streets of the Xinjiang capital, Urumqi, and allegations from exile Uighur groups that many more Uighurs died, citing persistent rumors that security forces fired on Uighurs during their original protest and in following days. Turkey's prime minister compared the violence to genocide.
Nearly a week after last Sunday's riot, which was followed by days of sporadic violence and protests by groups of angry Uighurs and Han, security forces patrolled the city. Paramilitary police carrying automatic weapons and riot shields blocked some roads leading to one largely Uighur district. White armored personnel carriers and open-bed trucks packed with standing troops rumbled along main avenues.
Some Chinese began holding funeral rites for their dead. At a makeshift funeral parlor along an alley, friends paid respects at an altar with photos of the dead: a couple and her parents, all beaten to death in the riot.
Even as people mourn and the city resumes a more normal bustle, officials have yet to make public key details about the riots and what happened next. How much force police used to re-impose order is unclear after a peaceful protest Sunday degenerated into violence. Xinhua's brief report on the updated death toll did not say whether all were killed Sunday or afterward when vigilante mobs ran through the city with bricks, clubs and cleavers.
In one Uighur neighborhood Saturday, a police van blared public announcements in the Uighur language urging residents to oppose activist Rebiya Kadeer, a 62-year-old Uighur businesswoman who lives in exile in the U.S., whom China says instigated the riots without providing evidence. She has denied it.
Kadeer, president of the pro-independence World Uyghur Congress, and other overseas activists say that many more Uighurs have accused authorities of downplaying the toll to cover up killings by Chinese security forces. "We believe the actual number of people dead, wounded and arrested is much higher," she said in an interview Friday in Washington.
Kadeer has said at least 500 people were killed while other overseas groups have put the toll even higher, citing accounts from Uighurs in China.
China has said its security forces exercised restraint in restoring stability but has not provided details nor explained why so many people died.
Uighurs in Urumqi also said they think their death toll is much higher but, with so many security forces and informants about, they were wary of talking about the numbers.
"I've heard that more than 100 Uighurs have died, but nobody wants to talk about it in public," said one Uighur man who did not want to give his name, saying the situation was sensitive.
A Han Chinese man who would only give his surname, Ma, meanwhile, said he thought the government numbers were correct.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey — where daily protests have voiced support for the Uighurs with whom Turks share ethnic and cultural bonds — urged Beijing to prevent attacks on the minority group.
"These incidents in China are as if they are genocide," said Erdogan. "We ask the Chinese government not to remain a spectator to these incidents. There is clearly a savagery here."
China's communist leadership has ordered forces across Xinjiang to mobilize to put down unrest. The state-run China News Service reported that authorities last Monday arrested an unspecified number of people plotting to instigate a riot in Yining, a city near Xinjiang's border with Kazakstan and site of another deadly confrontation between Uighurs and security forces 12 years ago.
The violence last Sunday followed a protest against the June 26 deaths of Uighur factory workers in a brawl in southern China. The crowd then scattered throughout Urumqi, attacking Han Chinese, burning cars and smashing windows.
Many Uighurs who are still free live in fear of being arrested for any act of dissent.