China Plays Down Shanxi Blasts as Work of 'Powerless Extremists'

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Police block a street in Taiyuan following explosions outside the Chinese Communist Party's Shanxi provincial headquarters, Nov. 6, 2013.
Police block a street in Taiyuan following explosions outside the Chinese Communist Party's Shanxi provincial headquarters, Nov. 6, 2013.

China's state-run media on Thursday moved to play down explosions near the ruling Chinese Communist Party's provincial headquarters in the northern city of Taiyuan, in sharp contrast to Beijing's rapid formulation of the Tiananmen jeep attack as the work of an Islamist group.

One person died and eight were injured in the blasts, which eyewitnesses said were planted in roadside flower-beds in an area frequented by petitioners: ordinary Chinese who pursue complaints and grievances against the government, often for years, and to no avail.

The English-language Global Times, which has close ties to the Party, commented in an editorial that "incidents of extreme violence and terror attacks try for the maximum possible impact."

It warned that the impact of such actions depended as much on "the reaction of society" as on the damage done, and that the "extremists" who carried out the attack have little real power.

"There is no need to exaggerate the influence of these explosions," the paper said.

"We should avoid creating the illusion that those who planted these bombs were the authors of an earth-shattering event," the paper continued, warning against "spreading panic and pessimism" and politicizing the incident.

Chinese officials have so far declined to comment on the motivation behind Wednesday's blasts, which official media said were caused by homemade bombs.

'All rumors'

An official who answered the phone at the Shanxi provincial government propaganda office denied a report in the state-backed People's Daily online edition that one suspect had already been detained.

"No, that's not right," the official said. "These are all rumors."

"If there is any new information, we will post it on our official website...Huanghe News Net."

Repeated calls to the Shanxi provincial police department went unanswered during office hours on Thursday.

Taiyuan-based rights activist Deng Taiqing said the authorities had stepped up security patrols throughout the city in the wake of the blasts.

"They have stepped up patrols and checks, internally as well," Deng said. "[The armed police] are out searching for bombs everywhere, in case they have been planted elsewhere as well."

"They need to prevent [another] bomb from going off."

Deng said most people saw the explosions as a political statement, rather than as an attempt to kill or injure the largest number of people possible.

"They were looking for political impact," he said.

'Someone with a grievance'

A Taiyuan resident surnamed Sun said the bombs were likely planted by someone with a grievance that hadn't found redress.

"The first explosion was by the complaints office, so perhaps it's to do with someone petitioning over a forced eviction or demolition, or some petition that hasn't found resolution," he said.

"We really get a feel for why China spends more on maintaining stability every year than they do on the military," Sun said. "But perhaps they can come up with a better way of solving social unrest."

"We are still waiting to see what results the official investigation comes up with."

A second resident, who declined to be named, agreed.

"I am guessing that it's someone who was evicted or had their home demolished, and who is angry about that," the resident said.

The blasts rocked Yingze Street in Shanxi's provincial capital, Taiyuan, at the height of the morning rush hour, the official Xinhua news agency quoted police sources as saying.

Eyewitnesses reported seeing heavy smoke and flames billowing from a minivan surrounded by debris after the explosions, which came nine days after a fatal car crash described by authorities as a "terrorist attack" in Tiananmen Square and three days ahead of a highly anticipated meeting of top party leaders in Beijing.

Deep social tensions

Activists have described a series of blasts in public places in China in recent months as symptomatic of deep social tensions and injustice that have no immediate solution.

Last month, authorities in Beijing handed down a six-year jail term to a disabled man who set off an explosion at the city's international airport, sparking anger over what many said was an unjust sentence.

The sentence was handed down by the Chaoyang District People's Court in Beijing to Ji Zhongxing, who says he was crippled in an act of police brutality in 2005.

Chinese authorities have kept up a "stranglehold" on petitioners and rights activists in recent years, subjecting thousands to arbitrary detention in labor camps and unofficial "black jails," rights groups say.

China's army of petitioners—many of whom pursue complaints against the government over forced evictions, wrongful detention, physical attacks, and deaths in custody—are increasingly targeted by police and officials for punishment.

Many of those who pursue official complaints against government wrongdoing in their hometowns have done so to no avail for several years, some for decades. Many are middle-aged or elderly people with little or no income.

Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.





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