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September 5, 2009

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Urumqi still on edge as schools shut down

UNCERTAINTY was still to the fore yesterday in the streets of Urumqi, capital of northwestern China's Uygur Autonomous Region, despite heavy security and patrolling helicopters in the wake of a wave of hypodermic needle stabbings and mass protests.

Helicopters hovered over the city for the second time since the July 5 riot that left 197 people dead.

"I bought a lot of food today," said Luo Huanzhang, who just returned from an outdoor market on Guangming Road. "Who knows what will happen next?"

The market was crowded and many people intended to stock up groceries, Luo said.

Residents keep their forays into public places short.

"I don't know whether I should go to work," said an employee with the Xinjiang branch of China Life Insurance surnamed Tang.

Traffic controls imposed at 9pm on Thursday banned vehicles on major roads in downtown areas such as Youhao Road, Guangming Road and Renmin Square.

People must walk or cycle, but many stayed at home.

Alip Toglak's restaurant on Jianshe Road W. has had no customers for two days.

"This region is safe, please come to eat in my restaurant," the 50-year-old Uygur pleaded with passersby.

"I will not shut down the restaurant. I hope life will return to normal soon."

The Experimental Primary School of Urumqi, a first-class facility in the city's south with more than 1,000 students, was closed yesterday, and it was unclear whether it would resume classes on Monday, said Ding Lan, a student aged 11.

The management authority of the Appendant School of Chinese Academy of Sciences Xinjiang branch in northern Urumqi required parents to pick up their children on Thursday, said Xi Rui, a teacher with the school.

She said the school received an order from its superiors to suspend classes yesterday until further notice.

Xinjiang International Exhibition Center, the venue of the trade fair that once attracted crowds of business people from around the world, especially central Asia, saw tight security measures and fewer visitors yesterday.

Passersby were asked to open their handbags and then have them scanned at the entrance of the exhibition center. Most participants walked a long way to the venue due to traffic controls.

Many indoor booths were vacant as company representatives did not show up. Many firms began to sell products on display at half price.

Hospitals in Urumqi were treating 531 victims of hypodermic needle attacks, police authorities said yesterday.

Statistics from the city's 24 hospitals say 106 of the 531 were showing "obvious signs" of needle attacks.


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