Peking hit by rush-hour bus explosion

An explosion on a bus in one of Peking's main shopping streets during last night's rush-hour injured and possibly killed a number of people. Reuters said two died. Police refused to say whether they were investigating a bomb but the blast came 10 days after three bombs were planted on buses in the western province of Xinjiang, where Muslim separatists have been blamed by the Chinese for attacks over the past year.

Early this morning there was still a heavy police presence on Xidan Street, where debris could be seen outside one of the big shopping malls. Staff at Jishuitan Hospital said some of the eight injured had burns all over their bodies.

Terrorist attacks in China, or at least those that come to light, are rare. If Uighur Muslim separatists have started a bombing campaign in Peking, the loopholes in China's apparently strict security system will soon become apparent, even with policing tightened in the wake of the death of Deng Xiaoping.

Explosives are easy to come by in a country where there are many private mines and controls can be lax. Public transport is overcrowded and disorganised, and it would be difficult to check passengers.

Yesterday's explosion may, however, turn out to have no connection to the Xinjiang situation. The most recent, known, explosion on a Peking bus happened a couple of years ago, when a peasant boarded a bus carrying a large amount of explosives in his bag.

Xinjiang province has been under intense police surveillance since the three bus bombs on 25 February in Urumqi city. Yesterday a pro-Peking newspaper in Hong Kong said seven suspects had been arrested in connection with the blasts.

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