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Originally published Friday, September 25, 2009 at 4:00 AM

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China indicts 21 people in July ethnic violence

China issued its first indictments Friday in connection with July's bloody rioting between minority Muslim Uighurs and majority Han Chinese, the country's worst outbreak of ethnic violence in decades.

Associated Press Writer

BEIJING —

China issued its first indictments Friday in connection with July's bloody rioting between minority Muslim Uighurs and majority Han Chinese, the country's worst outbreak of ethnic violence in decades.

Twenty-one people - mostly Uighurs - face charges including murder and arson, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. Most of those identified in the report were Uighurs, although two Han men were also named as murder suspects.

Nearly 200 people were killed and 1,700 injured in the ethnic violence in the city of Urumqi, capital of the far western region of Xinjiang. most of the victims were believed to be Han, millions of whom have migrated to Xinjiang since the imposition of communist rule in 1949.

The prosecutions have the potential of calming fear and anger among Han, tens of thousands of whom marched in street protests earlier this month to demand swift punishment of the riot's perpetrators and an end to a string of deeply unsettling needle attacks.

The September protests, in which five people were killed, resulted in the firing of Urumqi's Communist Party secretary - the city's top official - as well as Xinjiang's police chief.

Xinhua said that in handing down the indictments, Urumqi's prosecutor declared the facts in the cases clear and the evidence sufficient.

The crimes had "caused great losses to people's lives and property, seriously damaged social order, and the guilty must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law," Xinhua said, adding that more indictments were expected soon.

Hundreds of people were detained following the riots and officials said earlier that 83 people had been formally arrested. The fate of the other detainees remains unclear.

Xinhua did not say what penalty those charged faced if convicted, although shortly after the riot, officials said the death penalty would be sought in serious cases.

A woman from the political department of the Urumqi Intermediate Court confirmed the Xinhua report but would not give her name or any other details.

The violence in Urumqi underscored simmering resentment among many Uighurs over what they consider Chinese occupation of their land and heavy-handed Communist controls over religion and cultural activities. Uighur extremists have long waged a low-intensity insurgency against Chinese rule, although they are believed to be few in number and poorly organized.

China has accused exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer of fomenting the July violence, but has provided no direct evidence. Kadeer and other overseas Uighur activists have denied the claims and accused police of carrying out mass detentions.

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The violence broke out on July 5 after police attacked Uighurs demanding a probe into the deaths of at least two Uighurs in a mass brawl at a factory in the country's southeast that started after Han workers accused Uighurs of molesting a Han woman.

Uighurs then rampaged through Han neighborhoods in the overwhelmingly Han city, attacking passers-by, smashing and looting property, and burning cars and buses. Police were slow to respond and two days later, Han vigilantes armed with knives and clubs roamed city streets carrying out revenge attacks on Uighurs.

Massive numbers of paramilitary police have since been deployed to guard government buildings and Uighur areas and the city remains tense. The needle attacks that authorities have blamed on Islamic separatists then began in late August, further unnerving the Han population.

Police quickly arrested a number of suspects in the attacks and an Urumqi court has sentenced seven to prison terms of up to 15 years.

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