China conflict uses TV, cuts Internet

Twitter, Facebook blocked as 156 die in rioting in Xinjiang

BEIJING -- Chinese authorities on Tuesday imposed online blockades and a physical curfew in the capital of the largely Muslim northwestern region of Xinjiang, after thousands protested in the streets over the deaths of 156 people killed in recent ethnic riots.

Microblogging site Twitter and social networking site Facebook were both inaccessible across China by Tuesday night after Chinese users posted angry messages about the unrest in Xinjiang, where Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighurs make up nearly half the population of 20 million people in the region, which also borders Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Pakistan Tajikisatan and Tibet.

The latest social unrest in China has seen the conventional media used to spread the message that the government is in control, while the Internet and user-generated content are crippled to prevent the spread of dissenting information.

Only last month in Iran, after hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of the capital Tehran to protest an alleged election fraud, the ruling regime blocked certain Internet sites and made it a crime for members of the public to supply images to foreign media.

China's latest Internet crackdown echoes the widespread online censorship around the 20th anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing, just over a month ago.

On Tuesday, China's state-run media carried reports on the violence that began on Sunday in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital and largest city, between Uighurs and Han Chinese. Xinjiang Television broadcast the region's Communist Party boss, Wang Lequan, demanding the city streets be cleared from 9 p.m. Tuesday to 8 a.m. Wednesday.

But unofficial and often graphic reports found online were quickly stripped from the Internet by censors, stemming the spread of messages of ethnic hatred and preventing Internet users from questioning Beijing's policies toward regions populated by ethnic minorities.

Since Sunday, many Chinese-language blogs have posted articles from the state-backed media about the unrest, but most of the comment sections after the articles appear blank, which is unusual, given blogs' popularity with China's nearly 300 million Internet users.

On Tuesday, the Xinjiang Public Security Chief told Chinese official media that the violence in Urumqi is linked to earlier fighting in southern China between local workers and workers from Xinjiang.

In Urumqi, Uighurs are outnumbered by Han Chinese, who they claim reap the bulk of government development subsidies, making them feel like outsiders.

Official Chinese media also reported that the unrest was masterminded by Rebiya Kaddeer, a Uighur businesswoman exiled in the United States. Kaddeer has since denied the charge.

Despite the authorities' efforts to bring the situation under control, hundreds of Uighur protesters defied the police on Tuesday, even crashing a state-run tour of the riot scene engineered for foreign and Chinese journalists, The New York Times reported.

On Monday, The Times reported that police officers operated checkpoints on roads throughout Xinjiang and said that people at major hotels said they had no Internet access. Most people in the city could not use cellphones, the Times said.

Also on Monday, U.S. President Barack Obama expressed deep concern about the violence in China.

-- Patrick Frater in Hong Kong and Reuters contributed to this report.