Beijing, July 6 (ANI): At least 140 people have been killed in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang in what has been described by the government as the area's worst case of ethnic unrest in years.
Hundreds of rioters have been arrested, the official Xinhua news agency reported, after rock-throwing Uighurs took to the streets of the regional capital on Sunday, some burning and smashing vehicles and confronting ranks of anti-riot police.
Li Zhi, the Communist Party boss of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang province, told reporters that the death toll from the rioting had risen to 140, and added that 816 people had been injured and hospitalised.
"Police have tightened security in downtown Urumqi streets and at key institutions such as power and natural gas companies and TV stations to prevent large-scale riots," Xinhua quoted Xinjiang police chief Liu Yaohua as saying.
The riot in Urumqi, a city of 2.3 million residents 3,270 km (2,050 miles) west of Beijing, followed a protest against government handling of a June clash between Han Chinese and Uighur factory workers in southern China.
The China Daily put the number of protesters at 300 to 500 while the exiled Uighur American Association had it as high as 3,000.
An unnamed Chinese official said the "unrest was masterminded by the World Uighur Congress led by Rebiya Kadeer", according to Xinhua.
Rebiya Kadeer is a Uighur businesswoman now in exile in the United States after years in jail, and accused of separatist activities. She did not answer calls for comment.
Exiled Uighur groups adamantly rejected the Chinese government claim of a plot. They said the riot was an outpouring of pent-up anger over government policies and Han Chinese dominance of economic opportunities.
The government's claims of conspiracy by pro-independence exiles echo the handling of rioting across Tibetan areas in March last year, which Beijing also called a plot hatched abroad.
Xinjiang is the doorway to China's trade and energy ties with central Asia, and is itself rich in gas, minerals and farm produce. But many Uighurs say they see little of that wealth.
Almost half of Xinjiang's 20 million people are Uighurs. The population of Urumqi is mostly Han Chinese, and the city is under tight police security even in normal times. (ANI)