URUMQI, China - Chinese President Hu Jintao abandoned plans to attend a G8 summit in Italy on Wednesday, returning home early to deal with ethnic violence in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang.
The official state-run Xinhua news agency said Hu had left for China due to the situation in energy-rich Xinjiang, which borders central Asia, where 156 people died in weekend riots between the Han Chinese majority and minority Muslim Uighurs.
State Councilor Dai Bingguo will attend the G8 summit in Hu's place, the report added.
The summit was due to open in the central Italian city of L'Aquila later on Wednesday and Hu had been scheduled to join the talks on Thursday. Hu arrived in Italy on Sunday and had visited Florence on Tuesday.
Urumqi, Xinjiang's regional capital, woke up after a curfew that authorities imposed after thousands of Han Chinese stormed through its streets demanding redress, and sometimes bloody vengeance, after Uighurs rioted on Sunday.
The city was quiet, except for soldiers shouting in unison as they went about their morning exercises.
Anti-riot police blocked off main streets, while armored personnel carriers cruised back and forth.
Late on Tuesday night, the mobs of Han Chinese wielding clubs, metal bars, cleavers and axes had melted away. But many of the Han Chinese protesters said the killings of Sunday had left a deep stain of anger that would last.
How can I feel my family is safe after women and children were slain on these streets, one of the protesters said later on Tuesday. He gave only his surname, Zhong.
Security is a basic human right, isn't it? If the government can't protect it, we'll have to do it ourselves.
On the other side of Urumqi's now tensely divided neighborhoods, Uighurs protested on Tuesday, defying rows of anti-riot police and telling reporters that their husbands, brothers and sons had been taken away in indiscriminate arrests.
Xinjiang has long been a tightly controlled hotbed of ethnic tensions, fostered by an economic gap between many Uighurs and Han Chinese, government controls on religion and culture and an influx of Han Chinese migrants who now are the majority in most key cities, including Urumqi.
But controlling the torrid anger on both sides of the region's ethnic divide will now making controlling Xinjiang, with its gas reserves and trade and energy ties to central Asia, all the more testing for the ruling Communist Party.
The government has sought to bridge that divide by blaming the Sunday killings on exiled Uighurs seeking independence for their homeland, especially Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur businesswoman and activist now living in exile in the United States.
The Communist Party chief of Xinjiang, Wang Lequan, sought to press forward that effort in a speech broadcast on regional television and handed out as a leaflet to Urumqi residents late on Tuesday.
This was a massive conspiracy by hostile forces at home and abroad, and their goal was precisely to sabotage ethnic unity and provoke ethnic antagonism, said Wang.
Point the spear toward hostile forces at home and abroad, toward the criminals who took part in attacking, smashing and looting, and by no means point it toward our own ethnic brothers, he said, referring to Uighurs.
Uighurs, a Turkic people who are largely Muslim and share linguistic and cultural bonds with Central Asia, make up almost half of Xinjiang's 20 million people. The population of Urumqi, which lies around 3,300 km (2,000 miles) west of Beijing, is mostly Han.
(Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Alex Richardson)