Xinjiang death toll to 184

URUMQI: China has raised the death toll from unrest between Han Chinese and Muslim Uighurs to 184, as riot police and armed soldiers maintained a firm grip on the flashpoint city of Urumqi.

International concern about the worst ethnic violence to hit China for decades continued, with Turkey voicing the most alarm by labelling the plight of the Uighurs "a kind of genocide".

China has sought to limit the debate over the unrest to the initial violence on Sunday, which saw thousands of Uighurs take to the streets in Urumqi amid frustration over what they say has been decades of repressive Chinese rule.

The state-run Xinhua news agency reported Saturday that the death toll from Sunday's "riot" in Urumqi, capital of China's remote northwest Xinjiang region, was 184, up from a previous tally of 156.

Giving the first breakdown of victims, Xinhua reported that 137 of the dead were Han, China's dominant ethnic group, 46 were Uighur and the other was a man from the Muslim Hui minority.

Uighurs rampaged through the streets and attacked Han Chinese during the unrest, according to victims and witnesses AFP spoke with in Urumqi and graphic footage broadcast by China's state-run television.

But exiled Uighur leaders insist Sunday's protests were peaceful until security forces over-reacted with deadly force, and that further deaths have occurred following Sunday's unrest.

Han Chinese took to the streets of Urumqi early in the week wielding knives, poles, meat cleavers and other makeshift weapons vowing vengeance against the Uighurs.

AFP witnessed Han Chinese mobs assaulting two Uighurs in separate attacks, and Uighurs alleged many other beatings took place despite a huge security presence, but the extent of the violence was unclear.

On Saturday, riot police and soldiers continued to saturate the city, according to an AFP reporter.

The leader of the exiled community, Washington-based Rebiya Kadeer, on Friday said thousands of people may have died across Xinjiang, a vast region that crosses into Central Asia and makes up one sixth of China's territory.

Aside from Urumqi, there had also been "mob killings in different cities such as Kashgar".

Foreign reporters were on Friday banned from reporting in Kashgar, the famed Old Silk Road city about 1,000 kilometres (600 miles) from Urumqi, with authorities citing safety concerns.

Before being ordered out of the city, an AFP reporter witnessed a heavy security presence with at least 2,000 soldiers and riot police in and around the centre of town and near the ancient Id Kah mosque.

And while China has said 1,434 people were detained for their involvement in Sunday's "riot", Kadeer estimated that as many as 5,000 people had been imprisoned in a massive security sweep.

Turkey has been the most outspoken critic of China's handling of the situation, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday stepping up his criticism.

"The event taking place in China is a kind of genocide," Erdogan told reporters in Turkey after returning from the G8 summit in Italy. "There is no other way of commenting on this event."

"There are atrocities there, hundreds of people have been killed and 1,000 hurt."

He also called on Beijing "to address the question of human rights and do what is necessary to prosecute the guilty," while criticising the closing of mosques in Xinjiang on Friday, the main weekly prayer day for Muslims.

Xinjiang's eight million Uighurs are Turkic speaking and have far closer cultural links with people from neighbouring Central Asian nations than Han Chinese.

The Organisation of the Islamic Conference had earlier condemned the "disproportionate" use of force in Xinjiang.