New protest in restive Chinese city

Hundreds of Chinese protested against deteriorating public safety today after a series of mysterious syringe attacks further unnerved residents in the western Chinese city of Urumqi where ethnic rioting in July killed nearly 200 people.

People living near the city centre reached by telephone said hundreds, possibly thousands, of members of China’s Han majority marched peacefully in the city centre.

They waved Chinese flags, confronted local Communist Party leaders demanding they step down, and shouted “severely punish the hooligans” – a reference to the July 5 rioters.

The demonstration underscored public jitters and lingering grievances despite the city’s still-high police presence.

It also posed a challenge for the Beijing leadership and a propaganda drive portraying Urumqi and all of China as harmonious ahead of the 60th anniversary of communist rule on October 1.

July’s riots – in which ethnic Muslims first set upon Hans who then retaliated with vigilante attacks – were the worst communal violence in a decade in Xinjiang, an often tense Central Asian frontier region with valuable oil and gas deposits.

Today’s protest came after days of rumours that gangs roamed the city stabbing mostly Han people with hypodermic needles, scaring residents.

City officials confirmed the attacks, saying 15 had been detained.

A public service announcement on Xinjiang TV said 476 people sought treatment for stabbings.

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