Chinese authorities in the troubled western region of Xinjiang have recruited thousands of new security personnel, beefing up guard on streets, apartment blocks and shops following a string of violent incidents in the region.
Sources in the regional capital Urumqi, where nearly 200 people died in ethnic clashes in July 2009, said there were now a total of 200,000 security personnel on duty, following the announcement of a "strike hard" campaign targeting "terrorism" and crime.
An Urumqi resident surnamed Feng said that local street vendors had been recruited as citizen security as the government roped in large numbers of new security guards across the city in recent weeks.
"One in every five of the open-air street vendors must wear a red armband and act as security," Feng said. "There are security personnel in all the small family-run shops too."
"There are about 50 of those newly recruited security guards in blue uniforms in all the apartment complexes now, on top of 20-some existing staff and other kinds of security guards."
"There are probably about 100 people watching every apartment complex now," Feng said, adding that the city authorities had boosted security personnel by around 200,000 people.
The same story was reported across town.
"Security has been tightened," said a second Urumqi resident, who declined to be named. "When I got up this morning there were police on duty in the apartment complex where I live, which is a quiet park area."
"There are several dozen police inside the supermarket and also at the entrance to the supermarket," the resident said.
Exile Uyghur groups say the new measures are aimed at preventing ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs from entering Urumqi from other parts of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), following a surge in anti-government sentiment in outlying cities.
"Just recently there were people passing around anti-government leaflets in Aksu," said Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress.
He added that a number of people had been detained following the appearance of the leaflets in southern Aksu city calling for independence from Beijing.
"Also, this has happened in [the Silk Road cities of] Kashgar and Hotan," he said.
"The government is worried that this sort of information will make its way, through a number of channels, to Urumqi."
He said police had thrown a ring of checkpoints around Urumqi, and had in particular set up checkpoints on the highway linking Urumqi with Kashgar and Hotan in the restive south.
"They aren't ruling out the possibility of a protest carried out in Urumqi by Uyghurs [from elsewhere]."
The 'strike hard' campaign, announced on the regional government website on Tuesday, will run from Aug. 11 to Oct. 15, and will increase police focus on potential trouble spots.
It would also include spot checks of identity and searches of people and vehicles, the statement said.
More police manpower would be directed to investigations, and the courts would speed up trials to process the larger number of suspects.
Penalties from theft to endangering state security would be harsher during the campaign, according to the website.
This year's holy Islamic month of Ramadan, which runs through most of August, has brought a fresh clampdown on Muslims in the wake of a July 31 attack in the Silk Road city of Kashgar that left at least 14 people dead and 40 others injured.
The attacks in Kashgar and in the nearby city of Hotan two weeks earlier, in which 20 people were killed, mark the bloodiest violence in a year in Xinjiang, where Muslim Uyghurs chafe under Chinese rule.
A student at a high school in Kashgar confirmed the controls over Ramadan, especially on students under 18.
"They don't really encourage them to take part in religious activities," the student said, adding that the restrictions had been in place for a number of years.
"I think it's because they are worried that the students won't have enough energy for their studies if they don't eat."
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.