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Tensions high after Urumqi protest
Chinese soldiers and paramilitary police deployed amid simmering ethnic tensions.
Last Modified: 04 Sep 2009 08:42 GMT

Han Chinese protesters have blamed Uighurs for carrying out the attacks [Reuters]

Chinese authorities have stepped up security in Urumqi, capital of the western region of Xinjiang, following a day of protests by thousands of residents angry over a string of alleged syringe attacks.

Thousands of soldiers and paramilitary police were deployed on the city's streets on Friday, leaving many streets deserted and businesses closed.

On Thursday thousands of protesters, mostly from the city's ethnic Han Chinese majority, took to the streets to demand increased security following reports of a spate of stabbings with hypodermic syringes.

The protesters say the alleged attacks have been carried out by members of the indigenous Muslim Uighur community, although Uighur leaders say members of their community have also been targeted in the attacks.

State media, which first reported the stabbings earlier this week, said most of the victims were ethnic Han.

Local TV reports said that a total of 476 people had sought treatment for stabbings, although only 89 had obvious signs of being pricked and no deaths, infections or poisonings had occurred.

Sealed off

Xinjiang and the Uighurs


Xinjiang is officially an autonomous region but in practice it is tightly controlled by Beijing. It is sparsely populated but has large reserves of oil, gas and minerals.

 The region's Turkic speaking Uighur population number around eight million.

 Uighur activists say migration from other parts of China is part of official effort to dilute and suppress Uighur culture in their own land.

 Uighurs say they face repression on a range of fronts, including bans on the teaching of their language.

 Uighur separatists have staged series of low-level attacks since early 1990s.

 China says Uighur separatists are terrorists and linked to al-Qaeda.

On Friday, in the wake of the latest protests, paramilitary police with shields, sticks and submachine guns slung over their backs sealed off People's Square in the centre of Urumqi.

Group of armed security personnel also guarded intersections in the centre of the city, blocking access to anyone without identification showing they lived or worked there.

Thursday's protest follows deadly riots in July between Uighurs and Han Chinese in which nearly 200 people died.

The riots were the most serious ethnic clashes seen in China in decades and prompted a massive security crackdown by Beijing.

But the latest unrest has been seen as a sign that despite that crackdown, sectarian tensions remain high in the city.

"People are angry at the government, they are scared. We are living under conditions that are not normal," Zhou Yijun, a government office worker, told the Associated Press.

Another man, who gave his name only as Zheng, told the news agency people were very upset about the stabbings and described relations between Han Chinese and Uighurs as "very bad".

"These people making trouble, we catch one, we kill one," he said.

Resentment

Ethnic relations in Xinjiang have grown increasingly strained in recent years, with many Uighurs resentful at the migration of millions of Han Chinese into what they see as their homeland.

The Uighurs say the Han have unfairly benefited from the mineral wealth of Xinjiang, a strategically vital Central Asian region with significant oil and gas deposits.

Meanwhile, the Han often stereotype Uighurs as lazy, more concerned with religion than business, and unfairly favored by set-aside quotas for government jobs and university places.

Source:
Agencies
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