By CARA ANNA
BEIJING – China has installed about 40,000 high-definition surveillance cameras in the western region of Xinjiang days before the one-year anniversary of the country's worst ethnic violence in decades.
In this July 6, 2009 file photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, people look at vehicles destroyed in riots in Urumqi, the capital of northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. China has installed about 40,000 high-definition surveillance cameras in Xinjiang days before the one-year anniversary of the country's worst ethnic violence in decades. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Shen Qiao, File)
The security cameras with "riot-proof" protective shells will be monitored by police at more than 4,000 public locations, including on city streets and buses and in schools and shopping malls, city government spokesman Ma Xinchun said Friday.
Long-simmering tensions between Xinjiang's minority Uighurs and majority Han Chinese migrants turned into open violence in the streets of Urumqi — the capital of the traditionally Muslim region — last July. The government says 197 people were killed. Beijing blamed overseas Uighur (pronounced WEE-gur) groups of plotting the violence, but exile groups denied it.
China appeared caught by surprise a year ago when anger over a brawl between Uighurs and Han in another part of the country boiled over despite Xinjiang's typically high police presence and tight Internet monitoring. After the July 5 violence, the region's Internet, international telephone and text messaging links to the outside world were not restored for more than half a year.
The installation of thousands of surveillance cameras follows an ongoing crackdown on violent crime launched there last month, as well as the hiring of about 5,000 new police officers in Xinjiang.
"You can see more police patrolling and carrying rifles," a woman surnamed Jing said by phone Friday from Urumqi's Hongshan New Century Shopping Center, where she works. "If you walk down any street, you see them every once in a while, often in groups."
People are carrying their identification cards everywhere, and those from outside the city must get a temporary residence card, which authorities have been checking strictly, said an operator surnamed Liu at Urumqi's Torch Hotel.
Beijing labels those opposing Chinese authority over Xinjiang as terrorists. Late last month it announced it uncovered a gang of "hard-core terrorists" who it said had plotted attacks in southern Xinjiang cities between July and October last year. Public Security Ministry spokesman Wu Heping took no questions from reporters and his assertions could not be independently verified.
The announcement came a day after Xinjiang officials launched a "Love the great motherland, build a beautiful homeland" patriotic education campaign aimed at establishing "the ethnic minorities are inseparable from the Han."
The Washington-based Uyghur Human Rights Project on Friday called for the Chinese government to support an independent, international investigation into last year's violence. The group also asked the government to release Uighurs it says have been detained without charge, end the use of crackdowns and address the issues behind the region's tensions.
"Government accounts of the unrest in Urumchi in July and September have consistently demonized Uyghurs as violent criminals and terrorists, and Urumchi residents told UHRP that government propaganda fanned public hatred against Uyghurs and deepened ethnic discord in the city," the group said.
China's leaders say all ethnic groups are treated equally and point to the billions of dollars in investment that has modernized the strategically vital region with significant oil and gas deposits. In May, the government announced plans to inject nearly $1.5 billion into the region, starting next year.
But authorities have been accused of alienating the Uighurs, who are ethnically and linguistically distinct from China's majority Han, with tight restrictions on cultural and religious expression and nonviolent dissent.
Many Uighurs say they suffer discrimination in jobs and cannot get loans and passports, but Han Chinese in Xinjiang accuse them of being more concerned with religion than business.