Xinjiang protests: Five dead in Urumqi after syringe security clashes

Chinese police and protesters clashed for a second day in Urumqi after a spate of mysterious stabbings with syringes brought simmering ethnic tensions in the capital city close to boiling point.

Security forces used tear gas to disperse a crowd of several hundred protesters from China's ethnic Han majority who had gathered outside the Communist Party headquarters of the far western province, demanding better security.

The protests, while smaller than those on Thursday, where more than 10,000 came out to demonstrate, reflect the continued fragility of communal relations in the city two months after an outbreak of ethnic violence left nearly 200 dead in July.

"On Thursday, fourteen people were injured and sent to hospital and five people were killed in the incidents including two innocent people," Zhang Hong, vice-mayor of Urumqi, told reporters.

He declined to say what he meant by "innocent" and gave no further breakdown of who the dead were.

The clashes come at a highly sensitive time for the Chinese authorities in Beijing, who are preparing to celebrate the 60th anniversary of Communist rule in China on Oct 1 and have called repeatedly for "stability" to be maintained in the run-up to the celebrations.

Thousands of paramilitary police flooded into Urumqi's central People's Square, setting up security cordons to keep the peace between Han Chinese and the city's Uighur Turkic Muslim minority, who were blamed by authorities for the majority of the July killings.

Crowds gathering outside the office of Xinjiang's party secretary, Wang Lequan, chanted for him to resign and threw plastic bottles at police after fresh reports of the syringe stabbings, which have created panic among sections of the Han community.

When police tried to subdue a protester who challenged them, the crowd pushed back, shouting "Release him! Release him!"

Hundreds of armed police reinforcements rushed to the scene and eventually dispersed the crowd about one hour after the incident began.

The protesters have said they are angry that the government has not delivered swift and harsh justice to Uighurs, who have been charged with of taking part in the bloodletting in July which left almost 150 Han dead, according to official figures.

Schools were closed across the city for three days, leaving groups of youths milling around on street corners as paramilitaries drove through streets ordering people to "go home" and "maintain order".

On Friday the local government also issued an order banning public protests and calling on police and authorities to "strike the criminals hard". Anyone defying the ban would face "severe punishment", authorities said.

However, the mood of dissent on the streets remained palpable.

"The government is really lame. Everybody can see that now. It's been two months and they still have not dealt with this properly. How can that be?" asked Wang Jinren, who watched Friday's protest from his jade store.

"They have come up with no plan for dealing with these problems. They need to explain to the people how they are going to address this. But these problems are so big, maybe no one can solve them."

Public concern over the spate of syringe attacks – blamed on Uighur "separatist" elements by the authorities – grew into something approaching panic this week after the government sent text messages warning people to be vigilant against possible attack.

Rumours of Aids patients attacking people with infected needles have rattled parts of China in the past, but have later been shown to be unfounded.

However, official figures released by Xinjiang's health department said that 476 people had reported to hospital claiming to be victims of a syringe attack, although regional television said that doctors had only found "clear syringe marks in 89 cases".

On Friday, victims of stabbings spoke of their fears as they left Xinjiang's People's Hospital having received treatment.

Jiang Ye, 36, showed a bruise and puncture-mark she says was sustained at Urumqi's crowded railway station where she had gone to pick up a friend.

"I felt this sharp stabbing pain in my arm," said Jiang, who is Han, "I didn't see who did it. It was raining really hard and the sky was dark, but I do recall that there were some Uighurs right near me at that point." Her husband, 41-year-old He Zeyong, said he joined Thursday's protests in Urumqi "out of anger" over what happened to his wife, but was calmer now.

"The government is actively taking measures now to ensure security so we are confident... We just want things to be peaceful and safe here," He, who runs a small grocery store with his wife, told the AFP news agency.


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