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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Armed Police Dispatched Following New Urumqi Demonstrations

By Alison Klayman
04 September 2009

Security forces in riot gear are once again stationed across the western Chinese city of Urumqi. The show of force is a response to protests criticizing the government following a series of stabbings with hypodermic needles. The attacks fanned the ethnic tension between Han Chinese and Muslim Uighurs.

There were new confrontations between the police and protesters on Friday in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, but none appeared to have turned violent.

Some shops and banks opened Friday, despite the protests but at least two main mosques were closed for morning prayers, even though Muslims in the city are observing Ramadan.

Government notices around the city announce that large gatherings, use of weapons and incitement to violence are all banned. Authorities placed barricades on key roads and blocked access to the People's Square, the scene of Thursday's protest.

Most of the more than 10,000 demonstrators who marched on Thursday were Han Chinese. Many say they want increased security, and want participants in riots last July brought to justice.

One Urumqi taxi driver, who did not give his name, says the protests this week were triggered by reports of needle stabbings.

He says people spontaneously took to the streets to protest. He also heard that many Uighurs were hurt during this week's protests.

According to state media, nearly 500 people in Urumqi have been mysteriously attacked with hypodermic needles. There are no reports of deaths, infections or poisonings as a result of the stabbings.

State media reports say 433 of the victims are Han Chinese, implying the attacks could be ethnically motivated. Police reportedly have detained 21 people in connection with the stabbings.

Urumqi resident Yang Caiyi, who works as a courier, says he does not feel safe in the city because he heard people were stabbed with poisoned needles.

Yang says it is hard for people to live in the city right now because they have no sense of security. He says they feel like they got no help from the government.

The worse ethnic violence the region has seen in over a decade began in Urumqi on July 5, when a Uighur protest turned violent. The government says at least 197 people were killed. In the following days, Han vigilantes attacked Uighurs,.and tens of thousands of armed troops entered the city to restore order.

Authorities detained more that 1,000 people for their involvement in those riots. State media say authorities issued 196 arrest warrants and have prosecuted 51 of the suspects. More than 800 others are being held in criminal detention.

The region's unrest and other mass protests come as China prepares to celebrate 60 years of communist rule on October 1.

The Uighurs are a mostly Muslim Turkic minority group. They have long complained of discrimination by the Beijing government and China's Han majority, who have moved into Xinjiang and now make up about half the population there. The government, however, denies discriminating against them and says ethnic minority groups are given benefits Han Chinese are not.

Beijing blames the unrest on Uighur activists outside the country, saying they are bent on creating an independent state in Xinjiang.

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