FEELING THE HEAT: Protesters have called for the resignation of Xinjiang’s Communist Party boss Wang Lequan, a close ally of Chinese President Hu Jintao

Saturday, Sep 05, 2009, Page 1

Fresh protests erupted in the restive Chinese city of Urumqi yesterday, one day after mass demonstrations over a spate of mysterious syringe attacks that have fanned ethnic tensions.

The new protests took place as thousands of security forces were deployed to lock down the capital of northwestern Xinjiang region, where violence erupted in July between mainly Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese, leaving nearly 200 dead.

The central government dispatched Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu (孟建柱) to the scene to oversee efforts to restore calm in Urumqi, a city of 1.8 million people.

“Maintaining stability is the central task of overriding importance in Xinjiang at the present time,” Meng told local officials, Xinhua news agency reported.

Meng blamed ethnic separatist forces for the needle attacks, saying they were “plotted by unlawful elements and instigated by ethnic splittist forces.”

At one protest witnessed by a reporter, about 1,000 people threw plastic bottles at a similar number of police near People’s Square, where the main demonstrations took place on Thursday.

The crowd repeatedly scuffled with police, shouting “Release him! Release him!” whenever they tried to subdue a protester who had challenged them.

Hundreds of regular and armed police reinforcements rushed to the scene and eventually dispersed the crowd about an hour later.

Xinhua later reported that police had used tear gas to break up two other protests. One man in his 20s was injured and taken to hospital, it said.

A “number of other small-scale confrontations” took place throughout the day, Xinhua said.

Some Han Chinese have blamed Uighurs for the hundreds of reported syringe attacks in the city, but official reports have been vague about the identities of the alleged perpetrators, 21 of whom have been detained.

State media, quoting police, said a total of 531 people had sought treatment in hospital after being stabbed with syringes in Urumqi since the middle of last month. But the report noted that only 106 of them had “obvious signs of needle attacks.”

No one had been infected or poisoned in the assaults, Xinhua reported, and it remained unclear what the syringes contained, if anything.

On Thursday and again yesterday, protesters called for the resignation of regional Communist Party boss Wang Lequan (王樂泉) a close ally of Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤). Wang has called for calm and urged residents to show restraint.

Across Urumqi, armed police in riot gear were stationed at key points and erected barricades to block major roads. Traffic was cut off in several areas.

Government notices were posted banning all large gatherings, the use of any weapons and any incitement to violence.

“We seriously warn those criminals engaging in the acts of disruption to immediately cease these illegal criminal activities or pay the price of severe punishment in accordance with the law,” the city government said.

Some shops and banks were open, but at least two key mosques were closed for Friday prayers as Muslims observed Ramadan.

“We were ordered to keep the mosque closed,” said an official at the Hantenggeli mosque in the city’s central Nanmen area. “It is for everyone’s safety.”




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