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September 4, 2009

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Urumqi protesters call for better security against syringe attacks

TRAFFIC controls were put in place last night on major roads in downtown Urumqi in China's northwest after residents took to the streets to protest a series of unexplained attacks by people wielding hypodermic syringes.
The protest, attended by tens of thousands of people who were demanding better security, crippled the city's traffic system and forced shops in major commercial streets to shut.
Wang Lequan, secretary of the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Regional Committee of the Communist Party of China, and Li Zhi, secretary of the CPC Urumqi City Committee, called on the crowds to remain calm and show restraint.
Wang and five representatives of the public held talks in the afternoon, but no details were released.
Police said the protest started at 10:50am when more than 1,000 people gathered in a residential quarters. Another crowd of protesters gathered at a farmers wholesale market when a man was caught after allegedly stabbing a 5-year-old girl.
The protest spread to major streets, and people also turned out in large crowds in front of Renmin Cinema and at Renmin Square.
The protesters held the national flag and the flag of the Communist Party of China and shouted "Severely punish the mob." Members of the Uygur ethnic minority were among the protesting crowds.
Stabbing attacks occurred during the protests and an attacker was caught at the scene. The police stopped people who were about to beat her.
Police said that attacks with syringes have been carried out in Urumqi since August 17. The regional health department said 476 people have sought treatment for puncture wounds, among whom 89 showed obvious needle marks. No deaths were reported or symptoms indicating infectious disease or toxic chemicals.
Parents are especially worried about the safety of their children now that the fall semester has started.
Zhu Hailun, head of the political and legal affairs commission of Xinjiang Party Committee, said members of nine ethnic groups including Han, Uygur, Hui, Kazak and Mongolian had reported stabbing incidents to the police in recent days. Most were Han people.
Local police have seized 21 suspects and four people have been arrested for criminal prosecution, the regional information office said. It also said that the court would hand down severe punishments to those found guilty. The motives of the syringe attackers were unclear yesterday.
The attacks come less than two months after the July 5 Urumqi riot when 197 people, mostly Han people, were killed, and 1,600 were injured.
Authorities have issued arrest warrants for 196 suspects and prosecuted 51 for involvement in the riot, the regional government information office said in a statement yesterday.
The police have also requested that prosecutors approve the arrest of another 239 suspects thought to be involved in 140 crimes. Another 825 are being held in criminal detention, the regional information office said.


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