The government had ordered Uighurs to pray at home for the sake
of public safety [EPA]
Troops patrol riot-hit Urumqi:
Thousands of Chinese troops are patrolling the streets of Urumqi,
capital of the far western Xinjiang region, in an effort to maintain
the peace between the city's ethnic Uighurs and Han Chinese.....Read
Uighur ‘MOTHER’ looms large
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Several mosques in the riot-hit Chinese city of Urumqi have opened
for Friday prayers, countering earlier notices that all places of
worship would be closed following clashes that left more than 150
Mosques across the city, capital of China's far western Xinjiang
region, had been ordered to close amid fears that large gatherings
of ethnic Uighur Muslims could spark renewed unrest and clashes with
the city's ethnic Han Chinese community.
Authorities had said the closures were for the sake of public safety
and told Uighurs to pray at home.
However by midday on Friday large crowds had gathered at major
mosques in the city.
It was not clear whether the decision to hold prayers at the mosques
was a change of policy or whether the mosques were opened because
crowds had gathered outside.
One ethnic Uighur policeman guarding a mosque in the city told the
Associated Press: "We decided to open the mosque because so many
people had gathered. We did not want an incident."
According to Reuters news agency a small demonstration by Uighurs
was broken up by Chinese riot police outside one mosque, but apart
from the one isolated flare-up no other outbreaks of unrest were
Thousands of Chinese troops using armoured cars and helicopters have
been patrolling the city in a sweeping crackdown aimed at preventing
further clashes between the Uighur and Han Chinese communities.
The move comes in the wake of ethnic violence that has left more
than 150 people dead since Sunday in the region's worst ethnic
violence in decades.
Al Jazeera's Melissa Chan, reporting from Urumqi, said the situation
appeared to be back to normal on Friday although thousands of
soldiers remained in the city, most of them stationed at mosques.
Our correspondent said state media continued to emphasise the
importance of both Han Chinese and minorities working together, and
commended soldiers for successfully bringing the situation under
Hu Jintao, the Chinese president, described the riots as a "serious
violent crime elaborately planned and organised by 'three forces' at
home and abroad", in reference to what China's government calls
religious extremists, separatists and terrorists who they say menace
Speaking at a Communist party conference, he said that officials and
ordinary people "should cherish the great atmosphere of all the
minorities working, preparing and developing together".
"We should bear this in mind that the Han people cannot be separated
from minorities, and minorities cannot be separated from the Han
people, and minorities are inseparable from each other either," Hu
was quoted as saying in the local media.
Despite the authorities citing security fears that big Uighur
gatherings could become another catalyst for unrest, the decision to
silence congregational prayers could rankle the Uighurs, nearly all
of whom are Muslims.
"Jumu'ah is the time of the week when we must pray. For us, it would
be an insult to shut it down," said Ahmed Jan, a Uighur resident
near the Dong Kuruk mosque.
"If we're not allowed to hold normal religious activities, there
will be a lot of anger."
Xinjiang has long been a hotbed of ethnic tension, fostered by a
growing economic gap between Uighurs and the Han Chinese, government
curbs on religion and culture, as well as a massive influx of Han
migrants who are now the majority in Urumqi.
On Tuesday, thousands of Han Chinese, vowing vengeance, attacked
Uighur neighbourhoods, with many residents saying that people were
killed, but the Chinese government has not released any figures
beyond the 156 it says were killed in Sunday riots blamed on Uighurs.
Activists say the clashes started when armed police moved in to
break up a peaceful demonstration called after two Uighur workers at
a toy factory in southern China were killed in a clash with Han
Chinese staff late last month.
The government has not revealed the ethnicities of the 156 nor given
any information on more than 1,400 people it says were arrested in
the wake of the clashes.
Xinjiang, a vast desert territory that borders Russia, Mongolia,
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India,
has abundant oil reserves and is the country's largest natural