New round of unrest in Xinjiang China

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A new round of unrest broke out in China's restive far western region of Xinjiang today, as protesters took to the streets to demonstrate against a series of reported syringe attacks in the regional capital, witnesses said.

A resident said he had seen a group of Han Chinese protestors beating up an ethnic Uighur suspected of carrying out attacks with syringes, but he was rescued by police and taken to hospital.

State media said police have detained 15 people for the stabbing attacks that have increased ethnic tensions in the capital, Urumqi, which was torn by riots in July.

"Han Chinese are complaining about the worsening social order," said one hotel worker in the city, who said she had seen a small protest by members of China's dominant ethnic group. "They resent the Uighurs for the stabbing thing."

Rumours of AIDS patients attacking pedestrians with hypodermic needles have previously swept China, but were later shown to be unfounded. State media did not say how many people had been stabbed in the reported attacks.

A doctor in Urumqi said the number may be as high as 1,000, but he could not confirm that. He had not personally treated any of the alleged victims.

Nobody had been infected with anything or poisoned by the stabbings in Urumqi, the China Daily said on its website, citing the Xinhua news agency.

In Xinjiang's worst ethnic violence in decades, Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people native to the region, attacked majority Han Chinese in Urumqi on July 5, after taking to the streets to protest against attacks on Uighur workers at a factory in south China in June in which two Uighurs were killed.

Han Chinese in Urumqi sought revenge two days later.

Some of the demonstrators were calling for Xinjiang's Communist Party chief, Wang Lequan, to step down, the first witness said. Wang has held the office for 14 years.

Calls to the Xinjiang government and police went unanswered.

A visitor to Urumqi, contacted by Reuters, said the atmosphere was tense, with many ethnic Han Chinese citizens blaming the stabbings on Uighurs.

Xinhua said victims came from nine ethnicities, including both Uighurs and Han Chinese.

The Hong Kong newspaper said 400 people had been injured by attackers who immediately fled. Most of the victims only realised they had been stabbed after the attacker had vanished.

Another witness said by telephone that she had seen many protesters in the street near the centre of the city, but did not give an estimate of their numbers.

The protests are occurring during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.