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September 5, 2009

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5 dead, 14 injured in Urumqi unrest

A SENIOR government official said yesterday that the situation in northwest China's Urumqi was under control after local residents took to the streets again to protest attacks by people wielding hypodermic syringes.

Five people were confirmed dead and 14 injured and hospitalized during massive protests on Thursday against the attacks in the capital of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, the city's executive deputy mayor, Zhang Hong, said yesterday.

Chinese Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu blamed the attacks on Uygur separatists who were attempting to undermine ethnic unity.

Most of the victims were Han people.

Zhang said the attacks were premeditated and organized to create terror in society. "Since Thursday, there have been several syringe attacks, which caused protests and small-scale confrontations," he said.

As of Thursday, local hospitals had dealt with 531 victims of syringe punctures, 106 of whom showed obvious signs of needle attacks.

Urumqi residents confronted armed police yesterday over the attacks. More than 1,000 protesters faced armed police who blocked them from entering Nanhu Square at about 1:40pm.

Witnesses said two members of the Uygur ethnic minority were caught attacking people with needles yesterday and the victims wanted revenge. But policemen sequestered the two suspects, which triggered angry responses from the public.

The police used tear gas to disperse the crowd. Broken glass was seen on the ground.

Another group of more than 100 demonstrators marched on Jiefangnan Road around the city's bustling commercial area about 2:30pm.

The protesters, mainly young people, shouted, "Punish mobsters severely and restore peace and tranquility." Many held national flags and sang the national anthem.

About 100 armed police officers holding shields dispersed the protesters. When the crowds tried to break through a police cordon, the police fired tear gas, forcing the protesters back.

A young man in his 20s suffered multiple injuries. His thigh was bleeding and police officers sent him to a hospital.

All shops, banks and commercial facilities along the street were closed. Military wagons patrolled the area while armed police issued orders through loudspeakers, asking the public to show restraint.

The municipal government said yesterday it had issued an order banning unlicensed marches, demonstrations and mass protests. The move aimed to "safeguard public order, protect the lives of the public and guarantee the safety of property," said a government spokesman.

If there are violations "the public security department will disperse those gathered, and detain or punish those who disobey the order."

Public Security Minister Meng arrived in Urumqi yesterday to direct work to defuse the ongoing unrest. He urged local governments and Party committees at all levels in Xinjiang "to restore social order as soon as possible."

"Maintaining stability is the central task of overriding importance at the present time," he said.

Meng said the recent syringe attacks, which were premeditated, masterminded and conducted by law breakers and instigated by ethnic separatist forces, were a continuation of the city's July 5 riots.


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