URUMQI, China – Scattered mobs of Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese roamed the streets and beat passers-by Tuesday as the capital of China’s Xinjiang region degenerated into communal violence, prompting the government to impose a curfew in the aftermath of a riot that killed at least 156 people.
Members of the Muslim Uighur ethnic group attacked people near the Urumqi’s railway station, and women in headscarves protested the arrests of husbands and sons in another part of the city. Meanwhile, for much of the afternoon, a mob of 1,000 mostly young Han Chinese holding clubs and chanting “Defend the Country” tore through streets trying to get to a Uighur neighborhood until they were repulsed by police firing tear gas.
Panic and anger bubbled up amid the suspicion. In some neighborhoods, Han Chinese — China’s majority ethnic group — armed themselves with pieces of lumber and shovels to defend themselves. People bought up bottled water out of fear, as one resident said, that “the Uighurs might poison the water.”