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Ehtnic clashes eupt in china 150 dead { October 31 2004 }

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October 31, 2004
Ethnic Clashes Erupt in China, Leaving 150 Dead

BEIJING, Oct. 31 - Violent clashes between members of the Muslim Hui ethnic group and the majority Han group left nearly 150 people dead and forced authorities to declare martial law in a section of Henan Province in central China, journalists and witnesses in the region said today.

The fighting flared late last week and continued into the weekend after a Hui taxi driver fatally struck a 6-year-old Han girl, prompting recriminations between different ethnic groups in neighboring villages, these people said.

One person who was briefed on the incident by the police said that 148 people had been killed, including 18 police officers sent to quell the violence.

Chinese media have reported nothing about unrest in Henan. But a news blackout would not be unusual, as propaganda authorities routinely suppress information about ethnic tensions.

Although most Chinese belong to the dominant Han ethnic group, the country has 55 other groups, including several Muslim minorities and others who have ties to Tibet, Southeast Asia, Korea and Mongolia.

Ethnic Muslim Uighurs in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang have led sporadic uprisings against Chinese rule and authorities maintain a heavy police presence there to prevent an Islamic insurgency.

Hui Muslims, scattered in several provinces in the central and Western part of the country, are more integrated and generally are not considered a threat to social stability.

But outbreaks of Hui unrest were not uncommon in the 1980's and tensions can bubble to the surface after even minor provocations.

Many Hui areas remain economically impoverished despite rapid economic growth in China's urban and coastal regions, and some members of minority groups say the Han-dominated government does little to steer prosperity to them.

Friday's road accident set off large-scale fighting after relatives, friends and fellow villagers of the young victim, most of them Han, traveled to the taxi driver's village, home mainly to Hui, to demand compensation.

The rival villagers failed to settle their dispute, which quickly grew to involve thousands of people in Zhongmou County, located between the cities of Zhengzhou and Kaifeng, according to two accounts of the incident.

Local police failed to contain the unrest and authorities deployed the quasi-military People's Armed Police to restore order. Martial law was declared over the weekend, people in the area said, adding that the situation has since stabilized.

One person briefed about the clashes said that authorities may have been particularly alarmed after police stopped a 17-truck convoy carrying Hui men to the area from other counties and provinces as it passed through Qi County, near Zhongmou. Road blocks were set up on major roads in the area and some bus services were halted.

The incident suggests that word of the violence may have spread through a network of Hui and perhaps other Muslim groups and that mutual support among them is relatively strong. But the details were sketchy and difficult to confirm.

A police officer who answered the phone in the Zhongmou County public security office tonight declined to comment on the matter.

China's countryside and second-tier cities are rife with unrest among peasants and workers complaining about corruption, unpaid wages and a host of other issues. Violent protests, once extremely rare in the authoritarian country, now are frequent occurrences.

Last week rioters looted and set fire to police cars and a government building in Wanzhou, Chongqing, after an argument among several people triggered a mass riot involving as many as 10,000, residents, Western news agencies reported.

The uprising came after one local resident identified himself - apparently falsely - as a government official and beat another man who offended him, prompting numerous bystanders to spread the word that a local official had abused his authority.

Chris Buckley contributed reporting from Beijing for this article.

Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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