A local government spokesman on Tuesday denied a report in state media that more than 200 people will be put on trial this week for July's deadly rioting in China's far west.
On Monday, the official China Daily newspaper reported that prosecutions would begin this week against 200 people involved in the violence between Xinjiang province's indigenous Muslim Uighurs and members of the country's majority Han Chinese. The date of the trials is being closely watched because the communist authorities are believed to be eager to turn the page on the traumatic incident that left 197 people dead and another 1,700 injured.
But Li Hua, a spokesman in the Xinjiang press office, denied the report.
"We haven't been told that there will be a trial," Li said by telephone.
He also denied that the number on trial had been raised to 200, citing an earlier report putting the figure at 83.
Another state newspaper, the Global Times, on Tuesday quoted a Xinjiang government official, Hou Hanmin, as also saying that there were no plans for trials to start this week.
Hou said the number of people officially arrested, and therefore eligible for trial, remained at 83. The paper cited another unidentified official as saying trials were unlikely before the end of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, which lasts until mid-September.
Calls to the Intermediate People's Court in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang and the site of the violence, rang unanswered Tuesday.
Violence broke out July 5 after police stopped an initially peaceful protest by Uighur youths, prompting crowds to smash windows, burn cars and attack Han Chinese. Two days later, Han vigilantes carried out revenge attacks on Uighurs.
The unrest marked China's worst ethnic rioting in decades, exposing deep anger among the Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gers) and prompting outrage among the Han.
Uighurs have long complained of discrimination and economic marginalization by Han migrants who have flooded into Xinjiang since communist troops entered the region in 1949. Like Tibetans, another restive minority, many Uighurs claim they were independent for much of their history.
"These people are not necessarily splittist. They are people who feel aggrieved. They want their grievances dealt with, and they're not being dealt with, and I don't think a trial is going to do that," said June Teufel Dreyer, a Chinese politics expert at the University of Miami.
"I think that they are hoping they can convince people that these are fair trials, that justice is being done and that justice is being done quickly," Dreyer said. "But it's not so easy because they are not tackling the underlying problems."
Authorities have repeatedly accused exiled Uighur activist Rebiya Kadeer of fomenting the recent violence, but have offered little proof.
Kadeer has denied the accusation, and in a recent interview with the magazine Foreign Policy, the 62-year-old U.S.-based activist said China was setting her up as a scapegoat. While she says she opposed the violence, Kadeer said the riots were an outgrowth of pent-up anger among Uighurs.
Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen contributed to this report.