URUMQI, China - The ouster of the head of a western Chinese city shaken by ethnic violence and a bizarre string of needle attacks appeared to ease public anger yesterday after three days of protests.
Although security was still heavy in Urumqi, capital of China’s westernmost region of Xinjiang, many paramilitary troops had withdrawn from positions around the city. State television showed local officials visiting residents to reassure them of their safety and hear grievances.
The removal of Li Zhi, Urumqi’s Communist Party secretary, occurred after protesters marched by the thousands Thursday and Friday demanding the resignation of Li and his boss, Wang Lequan, party secretary of Xinjiang, for failing to provide adequate public safety against the syringe attacks. Also removed was the police chief of Xinjiang.
Urumqi, has been on edge since ethnic riots in early July between the majority Han Chinese and the native, largely Muslim Uighurs. Nearly 200 were killed, the government has said.
The Urumqi Morning Post described Li’s firing as a move to “strengthen the city leadership under special conditions,’’ referring to the riots, the recent needle attacks, and the protests.
The firing may also help quash calls to dismiss Wang - a member of China’s ruling Politburo and an ally of President Hu Jintao.
The riots in July were the worst communal violence in more than a decade in Xinjiang. The protests in the past week underscored the difficulties authorities have had in reasserting control.
Propaganda trucks continued to broadcast that the needle attacks were part of an organized separatist plot to spread terror, but gave no evidence to back up the claim.