198 convicted for China's Xinjiang unrest

BEIJING: China has so far convicted 198 people for involvement in deadly ethnic violence last July in its restive western region of Xinjiang, with more sentencings to come, a top official said Sunday.

Nearly 200 people were killed and up to 1,600 injured when unrest exploded into street riots in the Xinjiang regional capital Urumqi -- some of the worst ethnic violence in China in decades.

"The investigations, prosecution and trials are still going on and the final figure of the people sentenced will be larger," Nur Berkri, Xinjiang chairman, told journalists on the sidelines of the nation's annual parliament.

The convictions were handed down in 97 separate cases, he said.

He refused to say how many defendants were sentenced to death or how many had been executed, but according to state press reports 26 have so far received capital punishment and at least nine have already been put to death.

Most of the names of those sentenced to death appeared to be Uighur, a largely Muslim ethnic minority that has chafed for decades under China's rule in Xinjiang, a region that borders Central Asia.

The July violence initially erupted with Uighurs attacking Han Chinese, but in subsequent days mobs of Han roamed the streets seeking revenge.

Uighurs say the violence was sparked when police cracked down harshly on peaceful demonstrations in Urumqi that were held to protest the beating deaths of two Uighur migrant workers at a factory in southern China.

Nur Berkri insisted that the violence was the work of terrorists, separatists and religious extremists and not linked to China's development policies in the impoverished region.

He said the violence underscored the government's belief that its fight against separatism in Xinjiang would be a long and complicated one.

"There are a few secessionists who are reluctant to see the people of all ethnic groups in Xinjiang living a happy life under the leadership of China's Communist Party," he said.

"They will do everything possible to sabotage ethnic relations, distort Xinjiang's history, and advocate their ideas of secession... but no matter what methods they use, they are doomed to failure."