China sacks Party boss of strife-torn western city

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The Independent Online

China sacked the top official of Urumqi, the strife-hit capital of far-west Xinjiang, today, as the city crept back to an uneasy normality after days of sometimes deadly protests that have inflamed ethnic enmity.

The brief announcement from the official Xinhua news agency did not explain why the city's Communist Party Secretary, Li Zhi, was dismissed and replaced by Zhu Hailun, the head of Xinjiang region's law-and-order committee.

But Li presided over the city during deadly ethnic unrest between Han Chinese and Muslim Uighur residents on July 5 when at least 197 people died, most of them Han killed by Uighurs.

The far-west city has been under heavy security after three days of fresh unrest this week, when thousands of Han Chinese residents protested over a rash of reported syringe stabbings they blamed on Uighurs, a Muslim people who call this region their homeland.

Officials have said five people were killed in protests on Thursday, but have given only fleeting details about them.

The dismissal came as Urumqi returned to something like calm, topping a week that has seen crowds of Han Chinese protesters turn against the region's top Communist officials.

Troops used tear gas to break up a crowd of people, mostly Han Chinese by appearance, gathered near city government offices in Urumqi on Saturday, footage from Cable TV of Hong Kong showed.

But elsewhere in the city, shops, buses and roads began to come back to life, watched over by thousands of police and anti-riot troops, many of them barring Han Chinese residents from Uighur neighbourhoods.

Talk of fresh syringe attacks persisted on Saturday. Dozens of Han Chinese near the city centre complained that troops took away a Uighur man they accused of stabbing a child.

The spasm of unrest has alarmed the central government, coming less than a month before China marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic on Oct. 1, and officials have cast the stabbings as a separatist plot by Uighurs.

"Saboteurs may be planning more unnerving disruptions to create a sense of insecurity as the nation counts down to its major celebration of the 60th anniversary," said an editorial in the China Daily, the country's flagship English-language paper.

At least 197 people died in Urumqi when a protest by Uighurs on July 5 gave way to riots and killings that China called a separatist attack. Most of the dead were Han Chinese, and in the recent protests Han residents have voiced anger that Uighurs accused of rioting have yet to be tried.

Troops also used tear gas on Friday to disperse crowds of Han residents who called for the regional party secretary to resign after the hundreds of claimed syringe attacks.

The minister for police, Meng Jianzhu, flew to Urumqi to oversee security.

"The needle-stabbing attacks of recent days were a continuation of the July 5 incident," Meng said, according to the official People's Daily on Saturday. "Their goal is to wreck ethnic unity and create splits in the motherland."