It is astonishing that state media has attributed such a high casualty toll to Sunday’s riot in Urumqi — 140 dead, at least 828 injured and the death toll expected to rise, Xinhua says. It is even more astonishing that it did it so quickly. Only yesterday the death toll was reported as three. Beijing is signaling the seriousness of the events, if with what purpose it is difficult yet to say. If most of the dead turn out to be reported to be Han Chinese, then the intent will be clearer.
That the blame has been been attributed to exiled Uighur separatists is less astonishing. “Initial investigations showed the violence was masterminded by the separatist World Uyghur Congress led by Rebiya Kadeer, according to the regional government.” Xinhua said, using what looks like a sentence prepared earlier. This Bystander is tempted to think that Beijing is using its Tibet playbook with the Uighurs, though there are as many differences between the two situations as there are similarities.
Xinhua says several hundred have been arrested and the hunt is on for 90 fugitive “ringleaders”. Urumqi is now under effective lockdown by the authorities and has had its communications with the outside world cut; no Internet connection so further reports of the protest, and organization of more of it, cannot be spread via, blogs, forums, message boards or Twitter.