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Death toll from China's ethnic riots hits 184

URUMQI, China - China raised the death toll from riots inits Xinjiang region to 184, state media said Saturday, giving anethnic breakdown of the dead for the first time after communalviolence broke out in this far western city.

The official Xinhua News Agency said 137 of the victims belongedto the dominant Han ethnic group. The rest included 45 men and onewoman who were Muslim Uighurs, and one man of the Hui Muslim ethnicgroup, the report said, citing the information office of theregional government.

The previous death toll was 156.

Protests continued Friday after a petite Muslim woman begancomplaining that the public washrooms were closed at a crowdedmosque -- the most important day of the week for Islamic worship.Muslims perform required ablutions, or washing, before prayer.

When a group gathered around her on the sidewalk, Madina Ahtamthen railed against communist rule in Xinjiang.

The 26-year-old businesswoman eventually led the crowd of mostlymen in a fist-pumping street march that was quickly blocked by riotpolice, some with automatic rifles pointed at the protesters.

Women have been on the front line in Urumqi partly because morethan 1,400 men in the Muslim Uighur minority have been rounded upby police since ethnic rioting broke out July 5. As the communistgovernment launches a sweeping security crackdown, the women havefaced down troops, led protests and risked arrest by speaking outagainst police tactics they believe are excessive.

The violence came as the Uighurs were protesting the June 25deaths of Uighur factory workers in a brawl in southern China. Thecrowd then scattered throughout Urumqi, attacking Han Chinese,burning cars and smashing windows.

Many Uighurs who are still free live in fear of being arrestedfor any act of dissent.

Chinese leaders have alleged that a woman masterminded therioting in Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi. They blame activist RebiyaKadeer, a 62-year-old businesswoman who was once the government'sfavorite Uighur success story. But she began criticizing communistrule, served time in prison and eventually went into exile in theU.S. She has repeatedly denied instigating the violence.

Thousands of Chinese troops have flooded into Urumqi to separatethe feuding ethnic groups, and a senior Communist Party officialvowed to execute those guilty of murder in the rioting.

At the Group of Eight summit in Italy, Gen. James Jones, theU.S. national security adviser, urged two Chinese diplomats "toensure that government forces act with appropriate restraint,"according to a senior Obama administration official, who describedthe meeting to reporters on condition of anonymity because of WhiteHouse ground rules.

In many Uighur neighborhoods during the crisis in Urumqi, thewomen did much of the talking with reporters as the men gathered insmall groups on street corners and in back alleys, speaking quietlyamong themselves.

"I can't speak freely. The police could come any minute andhaul me away," said a Uighur man who would only identify himselfas Alim.

But on Friday, some men challenged officials when they showed upfor prayers at Urumqi's popular White Mosque and found the gateclosed. Officials had earlier said the mosque would be closed forpublic safety reasons as security forces tried to pacify thecapital.

The mosque was eventually opened when the crowd swelled andthere was a threat of unrest, police said.

Most Muslim Uighurs practice a moderate form of Sunni Islam orfollow the mystical Sufism tradition. The women often work and leadan active social life outside the home. Many wear brightly coloredhead scarves but the custom is not strongly enforced. Young Uighurwomen often wear jeans, formfitting tops and dresses.

As the faithful streamed into the White Mosque, Ahtam arrivedholding a lilac umbrella and told foreign reporters in brokenEnglish, "Toilet no open. No water."

She led reporters to an area where the faithful are supposed tocleanse themselves before prayers and said with tears running downher cheeks, "Washing room not open. Everybody no wash."

After the prayers, she continued speaking on the sidewalk andattracted about 40 people who applauded when she criticized thegovernment.

"Every Uighur people are afraid. Do you understand? We areafraid. Chinese people are very happy. Why?" said Ahtam.

The government believes the Uighurs should be grateful forXinjiang's rapid economic development, which has brought newschools, highways, airports, railways, natural gas fields and oilwells in the sprawling, rugged Central Asian region, three timesthe size of Texas.

But many of the Turkic-speaking Uighurs, with a population of 9million in Xinjiang, accuse the dominant Han ethnic group ofdiscriminating against them and saving all the best jobs forthemselves. Many also say the Communist Party is repressive andtries to snuff out their Islamic faith, language and culture.

As Ahtam's crowd became more agitated, about 20 riot police withclubs marched toward the group. The Uighurs pumped their fists inthe air and walked down the street with Ahtam leading the pack.

About 200 more riot police arrived and cut off the group, withsome of the security forces kneeling down and pointing theirautomatic rifles at the marchers. Foreign reporters were led to aside alley, out of view of the protesters, who were forced to squaton the sidewalk along a row of shuttered shops.

Hours later, calls to Ahtam's cell phone went unanswered and itwas unknown what happened to her.

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