Tensions remain high in China over violent ethnic clashes

China, in an attempt to end the recent spate of bloody ethnic violence that has already left 156 dead and more than 1,000 injured, has ordered that all mosques in the troubled city of Urumqi be closed for Friday prayers.

Shops have opened and traffic is back to normal in the capital of Xinjiang province as Chinese security forces keep a firm grip on the region. Attention is shifting towards who might be behind the clashes. Chinese authorities say they were orchestrated from overseas.

“This is a pre-planned and organized violent criminal incident which was remotely controlled, agitated and commanded by certain overseas organizations and conducted by criminals at home,” says Qin Gang, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman.

Authorities point the finger at the exiled Rebiya Kadeer, the President of the World Uyghur Congress. The Congress represents the interests of the Uyghur people both inside and outside China. The government claims that it is linked to the terrorist organization the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. The ETIM is a militant Muslim separatist group, founded by Uyghurs, and is fighting for an independent state called East Turkestan.

“According to Russian media reports, two Uyghur militants were captured fighting with Chechen rebels, and Uyghur terrorists are also active in Central Asia,” says Igor Rotar, a journalist for Rossiya newspaper.

Separatist sentiments have a long history in Xinjiang. In the early 20th century the Uyghurs briefly declared independence, but in 1949 the region was brought under the control of communist China.

Since the 9/11 attacks China has been claiming that the Uyghur separatists are connected to Al-Qaeda and some Uyghurs have been imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay.

However, little if no evidence has been produced to support the claims. Beijing has been accused of trying to diminish the Uyghur presence by organizing a mass immigration of Han Chinese into the region.

“The recent clashes have once again drawn attention to the problem of Uyghur separatism. I think the main cause of the protests is the long lasting confrontation between the Chinese Han and the Uyghurs,” says Igor Denisov, Asian correspondent for “Golos Rossii”.

However, the former Russian Ambassador to China thinks the clashes were well-planned and organized from abroad with the aim of destabilizing the country.

“There have been reports that for some time the main aim of US foreign policy was to break the Soviet Union. They achieved that goal. Now their next goal is to break China,” says Igor Rogachev, former Ambassador to China.