Sunday, July 4, 2010

Hoping for Calm in Urumqi

Today is the eve before the first anniversary of the Urumqi riots in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region.

And the government is taking no chances in compromising security.

The police have installed 40,000 security cameras in the capital Urumqi, much like the ones in Shenzhen to track people's movements from the moment they walk out of their homes. They have been installed in buses, bus stops, streets, lanes, schools, kindergartens, supermarkets, shopping malls and other places.

An extra 5,000 police officers were recruited this year and anti-riot exercises took place in the hopes of deterring trouble. A Uighur told AFP that on Thursday all their big knives were confiscated and they were told not to go out on Monday, the day of the anniversary.

Nothing will make people in China forget what happened last year, when according to the government, nearly 200 people were killed and 1,700 were injured in the worst ethnic violence in decades.

While the government blames the violence on "separatists" led by Rebiya Kadeer, it is really Beijing's policy in oppressing the Uighur minority group, while giving preferences to Han Chinese who move to the area that caused the unrest. The resentment boiled into frustration and anger that was taken out on the streets and on many innocent people.

However, the government has done little to adjust its policy in realising its blatant discrimination and instead focused on economic development, thinking money will make Uighurs happier.

Long-time Party chief Wang Lequan was removed in April and replaced with Zhang Chunxian, a senior official who has a good track record in terms of building GDP figures.

We will have to wait and see what happens tomorrow and with the world watching, the government will hope it will be a quiet anniversary.

But within Urumqi and elsewhere in Xinjiang, the resentment continues to simmer.

Those who have the resources are trying to send their children out of the region in the hopes that they will have better lives abroad.

For them it is their last resort in keeping their Uighur culture alive and giving the next generation a chance to flourish far from Chinese repression.

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