URUMQI, China, (Reuters) – Thousands of angry Han Chinese, many of them armed and seeking vengeance for deaths in rioting two days earlier, surged through the capital of the northwestern region of Xinjiang on Tuesday looking for Uighur targets.
“They attacked us. Now it’s our turn to attack them,” a man who refused to give his name told Reuters as other protesters held up their fists in a show of defiance.
Some carried machetes, axes, metal pipes or wooden clubs and chanted slogans including “Exterminate the Uighurs” and “Unity is Strength” as they marched through the city streets.
Crowds stopped to smash Uighur restaurants, throw rocks at a mosque — ignoring pleas from moderates among the protesters — and threaten nervous-looking residents of Uighur areas. “It’s your time to suffer,” they shouted at some of the five- and six-storey apartment blocks lining Xinfu Road, which protesters said saw some of the worst destruction in Sunday’s riots that killed 156 people and injured 1,080.
At one point Han protesters chased a teenage boy who looked Uighur up a tree and began throwing sticks at him, while others begged for calm and eventually hustled him to safety. There were few other Uighurs on the street, although in the morning hundreds had clashed with police over the sweeping arrests that have followed Sunday’s rioting.
Many of the protesters were taking pictures with mobile phones, creating angry images that are easily forwarded and may further inflame the volatile region.
Outnumbered police tried to curb outbreaks of violence, and stopped the crowd entering a Uighur neighbourhood, but even anti-riot forces using tear gas could not disperse the angry mass.
In a sign of government alarm over the outpouring of anger, the city’s Communist Party boss, Li Zhi, took to the streets with a bullhorn, begging protesters to calm down and go home from the top of a police SUV.
On one major thoroughfare, Renmin Road, a Reuters reporter estimated the crowd, a largely directionless mob, at 2,000. There were thousands more on other streets, many heading to swell a large crowd at the city’s main People’s Square, although by late afternoon police had started blocking off roads.
Clashes started again in the early evening after the local government announced an overnight curfew as police again moved in to quell the violence, beating their shields and cheered on by the Hans.
One of the protesters, who would not give his name, said, “We’re here to demand security for ourselves. They killed children in cold blood.”