Thousands of people are reported to be fleeing towns and cities in western China, after ethnic clashes between Uighur Muslims and Han Chinese. The army is on the streets in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, with many mosques closed. However, mosques used by Hui Muslims, who are close to Han Chinese, remained open. One man said:
“They told us safety is paramount and we should finish our prayers, go home quickly and have a rest. I think this is some kind of joke.” The number of reported deaths has risen today to 184, in what has been Xinjiang’s worst ethnic violence for decades. Another man said everyone is scared: “I don’t want to speak about the situation because I am afraid of Chinese, Han Chinese. I am afraid of the government.” The unrest, and the measures taken to crush it, are a test of Beijing’s ability to control this vast diverse country. Xinjiang has huge oil and gas reserves and China cannot afford to lose control of this mainly-Muslim region with the mounting instability across the porous borders with Afghanistan and Pakistan.