From USAToday:

BEIJING (AP) — Nearly 1,000 protesters from a Muslim ethnic group rioted in China’s far west, overturning barricades, attacking bystanders and clashing with police in violence that killed an unknown number of people, including a policeman, state media and witnesses said.

State media initially said at least three ethnic Han Chinese were killed in the violence Sunday, though later reported that an unknown number died, among them an armed policeman. An activist group said one demonstrator may have died.

Protesters, mostly from the Uighur ethnic group, set at least one car on fire, overturned police barriers and attacked buses in several hours of violence that appeared to subside somewhat as police and military presence intensified into the night, according to participants and witnesses.

Tensions between Uighurs and Chinese are never far from the surface in Xinjiang province, China’s vast Central Asian buffer province, where militant Uighurs have waged sporadic, violent separatist campaign.

…..

The government’s Xinhua News Agency quoted unnamed officials saying that at least three ethnic Han Chinese were killed in the violence, in which the crowd attacked passersby, torched vehicles and interrupted traffic on some roads. It later said an unknown number of people were killed, including the policeman

…..

Uighur separatists have waged a sporadic campaign for independence in recent decades, and the military, armed police and riot squads maintain a visible presence in the region. After a few years of relative calm, separatist violence picked up last year with attacks against border police and bombings of government buildings.

A protest by several hundred Uighurs in the city of Yining in 1997 against religious restrictions turned into an anti-Chinese uprising that the military put down, leaving at least 10 dead.

Take a second right now to look at Europe and China on a map. Look at all the divisions in Europe, and then look at the lack of them in China. They both occupy roughly the same land mass, and China has nearly double the number of clearly defined ethnic groups that Europe has. Yet, where Europe divides along these lines, China combines. Part of the educational and societal upbringing in China enstills into each person that they, regardless of their ethnic legacy, are part of what’s called the Zhonghua Minzu, or, Chinese nation. The Zhonghua Minzu is an ethnic superstruct concieved to bridge the gaps between ethnic groups. Instead of belonging to a group that is exclusive and old, you belong to a group that is inclusive and new. For the most part, it works incredibly well, but old ethnic tensions always rise to the forefront in times of social stress, which is what you’re seeing here.

The interesting part of this to me is that this, for all intents and purposes, is a non-story. China has thousands of mass events every year, losing hundreds if not thousands of people to them. So, why is this a story? Maybe because USAToday is trolling for hits? Uighurs have been in the news lately as part of the fallout from figuring out what the hell to do with all the Gitmo detainees. Hell, Jon Stewart even used them for the basis of a bit on the Daily Show. I think that USAToday would never have picked this story up from the AP if they didn’t know that Uighurs were one of those current news buzz words that people know, but don’t really grok. Running a story on them will get people to click a link, and that’s probably about it. I doubt most people are going to read past the initial three paragraphs of the story. It maybe jaded of me to think this, but I really look at this story as another example of a news agency only reporting on news once it is “popular” and not before.

EDIT: CNN picked up the story. They’ve got numbers.

BEIJING, China (CNN) — At least 140 people were dead and more than 800 others injured after weekend violence in China’s far west Xinjiang region, the officials said Monday, according to state-run media.
A boy stands in front of the burned wreckage of a bus in Urumqi, July 6, 2009.

The death toll was expected to climb, according to a regional government spokesman, as reported by China’s official Xinhua news agency.