Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Urumqi violence extinguishes brother’s hope

For one week Yu Dongzhi clung to hope that his sister might still be the only surviving member of her family. That tiny glimmer was extinguished today when officials identified her charred remains.

It is now certain that she was one of the 184 people killed a week ago in China’s deadliest riots in six decades of Communist Party rule in Urumqi, capital of China’s westernmost mainly Muslim region of Xinjiang.

Mr Yu had searched the city’s mortuaries and scoured the police database of photographs of the dead. He had returned to dig again and again through the burnt-out remains of the streetside store where his sister, Yu Xinli, and her family had sold flour, groceries and soft drinks to the mix of Han Chinese and Muslim Uighur residents of the district.

But officials have now notified Mr Yu — a week after Uighurs rampaged through the city attacking Han Chinese — that DNA testing has identified his missing sister. “The body was so badly burnt that it could be identified only through DNA testing,” said another family member, speaking on behalf of Mr Yu who was too distressed to talk.

Officials had said that nine bodies recovered after last Sunday’s violence could be identified only by DNA because of the extent of their burns. It was not known how many more of the nine had yet to be recovered by their families.

Mr Yu’s relative said his sister’s death may have been for the best. “How could she have faced life,” he asked, knowing that her husband and her 13-year-old son had been beheaded, and her mother-in-law, 84, and nephew, 27, had been beaten to death? All the bodies were left inside the family store after the rioters set it alight late on July 5.

The authorities say that 184 people have been killed in Urumqi. In an unusually detailed report for Chinese officials they have given a breakdown of the fatalities by ethnic group. Of the dead, 137 were Han Chinese, 46 were Uighur and one was from the Muslim Hui minority.

It was unclear how many were killed in the initial bout of rioting and how many died when Han Chinese vigilante mobs bent on vengeance began to roam the city streets in the ensuing two days.

Officials also provided a new figure for the injured today, raising the total to 1,680, an increase of 600. Nur Bekri, Governor of the Xinjiang region, said more than 900 of those injured remained in hospital and of those 74 were on the verge of death.

At the Xinjiang People’s Hospital the less seriously injured were crowded into special wards. Additional beds had been placed in corridors to accommodate the numbers.

Most were Han Chinese but The Times spoke to one little Uighur girl whose scalp had been grazed by a bullet while her mother had been shot in the ankle. Her pregnant mother said: “I had just finished work and we were going home when we saw so many people on the street throwing stones. The police came and opened fire and we were caught in the crossfire.”

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