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Death Toll Debated In China’s Rioting

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Death Toll Debated In China’s Rioting

URUMQI, China- july 11 — The Yu siblings could hardly bear to look at the police snapshots of the dead — the images so full of anger and cruelty. So they took turns sifting through them in search of their brother, who had been missing since ethnically charged riots shook this city in far western China on Sunday.

Yu Xinqing was the one who found him, victim No. 46.

Yu’s elder brother, Yu Xinping, had been finishing his shift when a protest by Muslim Uighurs turned violent and some went on a rampage, attacking Han Chinese in the city. His body was mangled from multiple knife wounds and was badly burned.

“When I saw his picture, I couldn’t help crying,” said Yu, 35. “If you give me a gun, I will rush out and shoot all the Uighurs I meet. I won’t look at them in the same way, no matter how good of an explanation there is.”

Chinese authorities on Friday raised the official death count to 184 and said more than 1,000 people were injured in the rioting Sunday, making it the deadliest clash in the far western region of Xinjiang since Chinese troops arrived here 60 years ago and one of the worst in the country’s modern history. Additional people were victimized in retaliatory attacks in the following days.

Of the dead, 137 were Han Chinese, 46 were Uighur and one was part of the Hui Muslim minority group. But other details are scarce.

Local officials have declined to release information about how the victims died or were hurt.

Nearly all of the 150 or so police snapshots of the dead appear to be of Han Chinese. Most have gashes or cuts on their heads. Only about 10 appear to be Uighur, at least three with apparent bullet wounds near their hearts — a detail that lends credence to charges by Uighur leaders that Chinese national security forces fired into the crowd of protesters.

But the faces of several victims were so swollen or injured that they were unrecognizable. At least three bodies were completely burned.

Some Uighur residents of Urumqi, however, say the number of Uighur victims in the official group of pictures is low because not all of the Uighurs’ bodies are being tallied. Uighurs — members of a Turkic-speaking group that is culturally, religiously, linguistically and physically different from the Han Chinese, who make up more than 90 percent of China’s population — have long complained of government policies they say are repressive.

Leaders of Uighur exile groups say that China is grossly misrepresenting the number of people killed and that the melee occurred because security forces overreacted to what had been a peaceful protest. On Friday, Rebiya Kadeer, the Washington-based head of the World Uighur Congress, said that by her organization’s tally, based on unconfirmed reports from family members and community leaders, the number of dead Uighurs could be in the thousands. The Chinese government has accused Kadeer of inciting the violence, a charge she denies.

Two Han men in Urumqi who were searching for relatives said they believe that the government might be hiding bodies in an effort to minimize the death count. In separate interviews, they said they went to all 23 hospitals in the area and checked the police pictures, but could not find their brothers, who were near the city’s bazaar when the rioting began.

Death Toll Debated In China’s Rioting

“The government is worried that if they announce the real statistics, it will raise the national anger,” said Wang Haifeng, 21, who last heard from his 18-year-old brother, Wang Haibo, a real estate agent, when he called Sunday during the riots to say he was walking home from a date and was scared. Then the phone went dead.

The Urumqi government said Friday that families of “innocent” people killed in the unrest will receive about $29,300 in compensation, but it was unclear how officials would make that determination.

Interviews with Han and Uighur victims and their families over the past few days and visits to hospitals where many of the injured are being kept in ethnically segregated wards reveal that the violence was often barbaric and random — and it went both ways.

Some of the injured and dead appear to have been bystanders.

Chinese troops had locked down this city of 2.4 million by Wednesday, separating Han Chinese from Uighurs and establishing a tense peace. But the accounts from victims speak to the long-standing mistrust between the ethnic groups and how explosive that hatred can quickly become.

Liu Yonghe, 44, a businessman, and his wife, Zhao Lihong, 23, were among the Han victims admitted to a hospital. They had just finished work and were on a bus en route to shops about 8 p.m. Sunday when it was stoned by a mob. They tried to escape but were beaten with sticks. Liu suffered head injuries, and his leg and two ribs were broken. His wife suffered brain injuries.

In another part of the city’s bazaar that day, a Han couple on their way to pick up their granddaughter ran into Uighur protesters. Deng Yimin, 66, and Xiao Xianzhi, 65, said they were beaten until they were bleeding and collapsed.

In a retaliatory attack against Uighurs on Tuesday, Ali, a 21-year-old Uighur laborer, was on his way to his company to collect his salary at 4 p.m. when he was jumped by about 50 people. His fingers were broken, and he suffered a concussion and gashes on his back and legs. The same afternoon, Nuryeraly, 25, was running errands with his brother when someone yelled that Uighurs were nearby. Several hundred people then began to beat the brothers. The last thing he heard before he passed out was his brother calling for his mother, who was not there. “I don’t know where he is now — if he is alive or not,” he said.

But there were signs of kindness across ethnic lines that have triggered soul-searching.

Ali said that before he was beaten, a Han man begged others in his group not to hit him even as the crowd turned on him and cursed him.

Zhao, who has lived in Urumqi for six years and is a shop assistant, said she was not injured as severely as she might have been because a Uighur man pulled her into the shadows of a nearby building while the attackers turned their attention to the Han men.

“I don’t blame the Uighurs for all of this,” she said. “There is no difference between Uighurs and Han. There are only good people and bad people.”

And Xiao, who was on her way to pick up her granddaughter, said she is grateful to two Uighur men who put themselves between an angry mob and Xiao and her husband.

“They shouted at the group of people and pushed them away,” Xiao recalled. “They were shouting in the Uighur language, so I didn’t know exactly what they were talking about. Then they pulled us up and walked away with us.”

Yu, who grew up in Urumqi and said he had no animosity toward Uighurs before this week, is not among those who say they can be friendly with their Uighur neighbors again.

“If the Uighurs are dissatisfied with the government, they should protest to the government instead of killing innocent people. Although I understand that there are bad people and good people in Uighurs, I still have a barrier in my heart,” Yu said. The death of his brother, the second of six children, “is such a big hurt for our family.”

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Vietnam sniffer dogs search for flood victims

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A man drives his motorcycle through a flooded road in Pac Nam district, in Vietnam’s northern Bac Kan province July 6, 2009.

Vietnam sniffer dogs search for flood victims

PAC NAM, Vietnam (Reuters) – Vietnamese soldiers and police used sniffer dogs on Tuesday to search for victims of floods in the north of the country which killed at least 34 people.

Flash floods and landslides from heavy rain on Friday night hit eight northern mountainous provinces in one of Vietnam’s most impoverished areas, with Bac Kan province topping the casualty list with 13 deaths.

Flooding and heavy rain late last week in neighbouring southern China forced 550,000 people to evacuate their homes and killed at least 15, Xinhua news agency reported.

The government said on Tuesday nearly 800 houses in seven provinces had been destroyed or submerged, while floods had damaged rice and corn crops, irrigation systems and roads.

Vietnam is often struck by floods and storms between July and October. The disaster area is far from Vietnam’s main rice and coffee growing regions.

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China quake survivors spend second night in freezing cold

Battling bitingly cold weather and a lack of oxygen, rescue workers clawed with their bare hands through the rubble of homes and schools toppled by the 6.9 magnitude quake that hit Yushu county in Qinghai province on Wednesday.

Officials said medical teams and supplies such as tents and quilts were on their way to the zone, where doctors set up makeshift hospitals to treat victims of the deadliest quake in China in two years.

But thousands spent another night without shelter in freezing temperatures after the quake destroyed almost all the mudbrick and wooden houses in Jiegu, the local capital, and flattened schools.

“I lost my husband and I lost my house,” Gandan, a Jiegu resident, told AFP, her son and daughter at her side. All three were living in a tent with other people, with one bowl of barley to share.

“We don’t know what to do, we have no food,” she said, standing by the tent a stone’s throw from her collapsed mud and brick house.

China quake devastates stunned town

The number who perished rose to 760, including dozens of children, while 11,477 were injured, the official Xinhua news agency said, quoting rescue coordinators.

The death toll is expected to rise further, with 243 still buried, and local officials say they were short of medical supplies and large digging equipment.

“The rescue job in this disaster zone faces many difficulties,” said Miao Chonggang, of the China Earthquake Administration, which is coordinating more than 7,000 rescuers.

President Hu Jintao cut short a Latin American tour and Prime Minister Wen Jiabao postponed a trip to Southeast Asia.

Hu told a news conference in Brasilia the quake was “a huge calamity which resulted in big losses of human life”.

Chinese president calls quake ‘huge calamity’

Wen on Thursday visited the quake zone, an underdeveloped area of the Tibetan plateau known as the “Roof of the World”.

“The top priority is to save people. We will never give up even if there is only a slim hope,” Wen told a meeting at the quake-relief headquarters in Yushu, according to Xinhua.

Soldiers, police and firefighters used shovels, iron bars and bare hands to dig through the mangled piles of concrete and rubble from 15,000 toppled homes.

Foreign governments offered help as international aid officials warned that the priorities would be providing shelter, medical aid, food and water and ensuring sanitation to prevent the spread of disease.

Meanwhile tens of thousands of Internet users have been showing their solidarity with the quake victims by posting virtual flowers in online “mourning halls” and donating to appeals, Xinhua said.

Jiegu lies around 800 kilometres (500 miles) by road from the provincial capital Xining, about 4,000 metres above sea level, meaning rescue workers from outside the region struggled to cope with the lack of oxygen.

The government said electricity and phone links had been restored to dozens of towns but the difficult terrain, including deep canyons, and the bitter cold and remoteness of the area were hampering rescue efforts.

Dazed survivors told harrowing stories of loved ones crushed under their homes.

“There are 10 people in my family and only four of us escaped. One of my relatives died. All the others are buried under the rubble,” Samdrup Gyatso, 17, told Xinhua after his two-storey home crumbled.

Facts on China quake zone

Among the dead were at least 66 pupils and 10 teachers, Xinhua said, quoting local authorities, as grieving parents waited for news near the ruins of the schools, where discarded school books and clothes lay.

Xinhua said a baby boy had been born in a tent near the epicentre shortly after the quake.

“It must be the first life that came to the world after the disaster,” Huang Changmei, a doctor, told the agency.

“The baby brought hope to the ruined place.”

The devastation was reminiscent of the huge quake in May 2008 in Sichuan province, where thousands of children were among 87,000 deaths when their shoddily-constructed schools collapsed.

Schoolbooks strewn in China quake rubble as children perish

Xu Mei, of the education ministry, denied a media report that around 200 children had been buried in the ruins of a primary school in Wednesday’s quake.

In Beijing, Zou Ming, the head of the government’s disaster relief department, said nearly 40,000 tents, 120,000 articles of clothing, 120,000 quilts and food were being dispatched.