6 sentenced to death for Urumqi riots

The seven men had names that suggested they were Uighurs, the largest ethnic group in the vast region of Xinjiang. All were convicted of murder, and some were also found guilty of arson and robbery, Xinhua news agency reported.

The sentences were the first to be handed down by a court in response to the rioting of July 5, in which enraged Uighurs went on a rampage against Han, the dominant ethnic group in China, in the streets of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

At least 197 people were killed, most of them Han civilians, and 1,600 injured, the government announced. The ethnic rioting was the worst in decades in China and prompted cycles of retaliation as well as protests against the regional government.

Uighurs in Urumqi said the Chinese government greatly underestimated the number of Uighurs killed, while some Han residents say the government is covering up the extent of the atrocities committed by the Uighurs.

Last month, as rumours of further violence by Uighurs swirled in Urumqi, Han protesters took to the streets to call for the resignation of Wang Lequan, the head of the regional Communist Party for the past 15 years.

Uighurs in Xinjiang have long complained of discrimination against them and of mass migrations to Xinjiang by the Han that have changed society in parts of the region they once clearly dominated.

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