Separatists are blamed in needle attacks
China moves to curb protests
URUMQI, China - The country’s security chief blamed Muslim separatists yesterday for a string of bizarre needle attacks that drew thousands of angry protesters into the streets as officials disclosed that five people were killed and 14 injured during demonstrations in this restive city.
Police fired tear gas to break up continuing protests by thousands of Han Chinese, the country’s majority ethnic group, underscoring how unsettled Urumqi remains despite a massive security crackdown after ethnic rioting in July that left 197 people dead.
The Xinjiang region, of which Urumqi is the capital, has for decades faced a simmering separatist movement by Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group.
Deputy Mayor Zhang Hong said the most recent deaths occurred Thursday, the first day of the demonstrations. Zhang said two of those killed were “innocent,’’ but gave no other details of their identities or the circumstances of their deaths, other than saying they occurred in “small-scale clashes.’’ He said authorities were investigating the other three deaths.
Earlier yesterday, Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu said the same Muslim separatists that Beijing blames for the July 5 ethnic rioting also orchestrated the syringe attacks.
“The needle stabbing incident is a continuation of the ‘7-5’ incident, and it’s plotted by unlawful elements and instigated by ethnic separatist forces,’’ Meng said in comments broadcast on national television. “Their purpose is to damage ethnic unity.’’
Meng, who was dispatched to Urumqi to direct the police action, provided no evidence to back up his charges, nor has the government substantiated accusations that separatists incited July’s violence. By most accounts, the riot started after police confronted protesters from the Muslim Uighur ethnic group, who then attacked Han Chinese. Days later, Han vigilantes tore through Uighur neighborhoods to retaliate. Zhang said 21 people were detained on suspicion of carrying out the needle attacks and four indicted. He said those held were Uighurs, while most of the victims were Han.
Meng’s comments marked the first time authorities suggested Uighur separatists were involved in the stabbings, which have fed rumors and fear in the city for days. The syringe attacks were first publicly reported Wednesday. His arrival in Urumqi indicated Chinese leaders’ anxiety that order was slipping in the often-tense city of 2.5 million, and that violence between Han and Uighur could flare anew.
Police used tear gas and public appeals yesterday to break up Han crowds that attempted repeatedly to break through to government offices. Predominantly Uighur neighborhoods were sealed off by security forces who formed barriers at street entrances.