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September 7, 2009

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Needle felons face harsh penalties

SYRINGE attackers who triggered the latest unrest in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region's capital of Urumqi face penalties right up to the death sentence.

The city's court, prosecutors' office and police department late yesterday issued a joint notice outlining the severity they placed on the situation.

Those who stabbed others with syringes containing poisonous or diseased substances face a minimum of three years in jail, life imprisonment or even execution if convicted, said the notice by the city's intermediate court, the public security bureau and the prosecutors office.

Such acts constituted the crime of deploying dangerous substances to harm others as described in China's penal code, which can be punishable by death if the consequences were grave, the document said.

Those who spread fake information about stabbing cases that disturbed social order will be detained or jailed.

Citizens are empowered to seize and turn over stabbers to police, according to the document.

Lighter penalties, or even exemptions, will be considered for those who surrender or help catch other offenders.

Wang Lequan, secretary of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Regional Committee of the Communist Party of China, said yesterday that four suspects stabbed a Han woman with syringes in Xiaoximen shopping area in Urumqi last Thursday, sparking mass protests that demanded security guarantees.

The protests left four dead and 14 others hospitalized.

The situation in Urumqi was, on the whole, stable, but it was also fragile as demands of some residents had not been met and sporadic needle attacks continued, Wang said.

Security measures, which bring inconvenience, could spark mass gatherings at any time, he said.

By Friday, health and police authorities had confirmed 531 victims of syringe stabbings, 171 of whom showed obvious signs of attack.

Most victims were of the Han ethnic group and a minority were from ethnic groups including Uygur, Hui and Kazak, Wang said.

Medical experts have ruled out the possibility that radioactive substances, anthrax and toxic chemicals were used in recent needle attacks in Urumqi.

Wang called on residents not to believe or spread rumors and to express demands via legal channels.

Social order had returned to normal in the wake of the deadly July 5 riots, but enemies at home and abroad were not reconciled to failure and so conducted the needle attacks to spark public panic, Wang said.

The protests had put to the test the unity people of all ethnic groups had been seeking for years, he said.


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