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Uighur workers held behind locked gates

At the Guangdong factory where murders sparked clashes in Xinjiang, ethnic Uighurs have been kept out of sight.

What precisely happened at the massive Shaoguan toy factory on June 26 remains clouded by rampant rumors and anxiety. City officials at the press conference said the fight broke out after a Han woman was harassed and groped by a group of Uighur men when she returned to her dorm from work late on June 25. She reported the incident and the men refused to cooperate with an investigation, said city government spokesman Wang Qingxi, so the fight escalated into a deadly brawl that killed two Uighur men and left 100 people injured.

News of the incident, some of which was apparently exaggerated, quickly spread across the internet. Uighur rights groups globally condemned what happened and a lack of police action. Earlier this week, officials announced they had arrested 15 people in Shaoguan, including three Uighurs, in connection with the factory brawl. Other reports said several people were detained for spreading rumors.

As Xinjiang braces for a crackdown, locals in Shaoguan are full of opinions about Uighurs, race and what really happened here.

“Things are back to normal in the factory because there are no people from Xinjiang there anymore,” said Yang Lin, a 40-year-old factory worker from central China. “We were very surprised by everything that happened, but these were people who wanted to steal things.”

“These people from Xinjiang are just wild,” said another worker who refused to give his name, but who said he believed the rumors that the men raped Han women shortly after arriving at the factory in May.

Those initial rumors, skewering six Uighurs for raping two Han women (a charge later denounced by police), started circulating online in early June. But workers said tension arose shortly after the Uighurs arrived. Hubei native Li Wenlin said there was constant arguing between the Han and Uighur men for weeks, but he stayed out of it.

“I’m an easy person to get along with and I thought the Uighurs were fine,” said Li, who said police in the factory warned against talking about the incident.

Despite the tension and violence, officials said plans to bring several hundred more Uighur workers to the area will proceed. The future for those holed up in the gated toy factory appears unknown.

Read more about the conflict:

Irreconcilable forces in China