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China cuts internet to quell ethnic riots

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China has blocked internet access in parts of Urumqi - the capital of the northwestern Xinjiang province - after violent clashes between the minority Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese reportedly left 156 dead and more than 1,000 injured.

"We cut Internet connection in some areas of Urumqi in order to quench the riot quickly and prevent violence from spreading to other places," Li Zhi, Communist Party of China chief of Urumqi told the state-run media outlet Xinhua.

He did not say when internet services would resume, but claimed Chinese authorities have evidence that Uyghur political activist Rebiya Kadeer was using the internet to "mastermind" the Sunday riot. The former millionaire businesswoman, now exiled to the US, has denied involvement in the riots and condemned the reported violent actions.

"These accusations are completely false. I did not organize the protests or call on people to demonstrate," she said in a press conference in Washington on Monday.

State media claims the deaths occurred when Uighurs protesters "took to the streets with knives, wooden batons, bricks and stones" on Sunday afternoon.

"The unrest was preempted, organized violent crime. It is instigated and directed from abroad, and carried out by outlaws in the country," the government said in a released statement early Monday.

Uighur leaders, meanwhile, say the riots started after Chinese police attacked a peaceful protest.

Ethnic tension apparently sparked into violence after two Uygur workers were killed and dozens injured during a brawl last month at a toy factory nearly 3,000 miles from Urumqi. According to the Wall Street Journal, trouble began when rumors began spreading that Uighur migrant workers had raped a Han Chinese woman. The allegations were spread online throughout the Han community, although never proved.

State media claims the brawl was used by overseas opposition forces to instigate further unrest and undermine the social stability in the autonomous region of China.

Police say they have arrested 1,434 suspects in connection with Sunday evening's riot and have begun interrogation. Authorities have also declared a traffic curfew in the regional capital from 9pm and 8am as a further measure to quell escalating violence. ®

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