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Chemical factory explosion adds to tension in Urumqi


Latest update : 2009-07-12

An explosion at a chemical factory raised tension in China's Urumqi city on Sunday, a week after ethnic clashes in the Xinjiang province left more than 180 people dead. No casualties have been reported so far.

AFP - An explosion at a chemical factory raised tension in China's restive Urumqi city on Sunday, one week after unrest between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese left more than 180 people dead.

Firefighting authorities reported there were no casualties from the oil tank explosion at the factory on Sunday morning and that they had yet to determine a cause, drawing no link with the unrest.

A spokesman with the city's firefighting department told AFP the fire from the blast in the outer northeast of the city had been extinguished, but gave no further details.

China's state-run Xinhua news agency also reported the blast and similarly gave no reason for the incident, nor did it say it was related to the security situation in Urumqi, capital of the nation's northwest Xinjiang region.

Meanwhile, many businesses had re-opened in Urumqi, but the mood among both Uighurs and Han, China's dominant ethnic group, remained one of deep distrust.

"No, no, no. It's still dangerous," said a Han supermarket owner surnamed Lin when asked if he would venture into the Uighur district of the city of 2.3 million people.

"I had friends who went there yesterday who were threatened by Uighurs and they had to run out of there."

The government said 184 people died in Urumqi and more than 1,000 others were injured when protests by Uighurs on July 5 quickly turned violent.

Xinjiang's eight million Uighurs have long complained about repressive Chinese rule, grievances the government says are baseless.

Uighurs attacked Han Chinese during the July 5 unrest and destroyed their shops, according to victims and witnesses AFP spoke with here, as well as footage broadcast by China's state-run television.

However, exiled Uighur leaders countered Sunday's protests were peaceful until security forces over-reacted with deadly force, and that further deaths have occurred across all across Xinjiang since then.

Han Chinese took to the streets of Urumqi early in the week wielding machetes, poles, chains and other makeshift weapons vowing vengeance against the Uighurs.

AFP witnessed Han Chinese mobs assaulting two Uighurs in separate attacks, and Uighurs alleged many other beatings took place despite a huge security presence.

The government has not said if anyone died in clashes after the initial July 5 unrest.

The People's Square in central Urumqi that has been a magnet for protesters from both sides remained closed on Sunday, with riot police surrounding it.

Security forces have also continued to patrol Urumqi's streets, some armed with batons and others with guns.

Fear and distrust persists on both sides of the ethnic divide.

"We are also scared. We don't want to go to the train station or other areas where there are a lot of Han," said a college-educated Uighur man who did not want his named published.

"It's going to be pretty tense for a while. I think you are going to see people spending more time indoors watching TV."

Residents in other cities and towns across Xinjiang, a sparsely populated region of deserts and mountains that makes up a sixth of China's territory, also reported on Sunday intense security and a sense of trepidation.

"There are more policemen patrolling the streets. The shops are closing maybe one or two hours earlier than normal," a Han Chinese shopowner in Kashgar told AFP by telephone.

Foreign reporters have been banned from reporting in Kashgar, the famous Old Silk Road city, with authorities citing safety concerns.

Kashgar has also seen deadly unrest in recent times, with two Uighur men killing 17 policemen in August last year just ahead of the Olympics.

The Xinhua news agency reported police had quelled a protest by 200 "rioters" outside the main Id Kah mosque in Kashgar on Monday.

Exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer has said security forces may have killed many people in Kashgar over the past week, although Chinese officials have denied this via the state-run media.

Date created : 2009-07-12