Crackdown in Western China

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BEIJING: A Chinese official confirmed Monday that police had opened fire on Uighur protesters in the Xinjiang region, killing two and injuring five. The shootings occurred Thursday as Uighurs were protesting the executions of three people for their part in anti-government rioting. The news further illustrates the unraveling of Xinjiang as Uighurs, a Turkic speaking people with little cultural ties to the dominant ethnic Han minority, look to separatism as the only way out of increasingly desperate economic straits. Although the region contains more than one-seventh of China's oil and one-fourth of its natural gas reserves, Uighurs are among the poorest of China's rural people with a per capita income of $157 last year, $72 less than the rural average. Because of the region's vast mineral wealth, China is not going to let Xinjiang break away. The problem for China is that Xinjiang, which means "New Frontier" in Chinese and accounts for one-sixth of the country's area, borders on six other nations with culturally similar groups. The fear is that unrest here will spread, enveloping China and its neighbors in a broader separatist movement. To combat this, Chinese President Jiang Zemin has appealed for help fighting the Uighurs from the leaders of neighboring Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. As a carrot, China has offered easy credit to the Kazakh government and has discussed routing oil and gas pipelines through Kazakhstan. It appears to be working: Several Uighur activists in the Kazakh capital of Almaty say that authorities have begun to close down newspapers and restrict demonstrations.