Authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang have stepped up security ahead of the second anniversary of deadly ethnic riots in the regional capital, Urumqi, residents said on Friday.
"Now it's nearly July 5," said one resident of Urumqi, referring to the date of initial clashes in 2009 between protesters and police at a demonstration by Uyghurs, many of them students.
"There are a lot more police vehicles out here in the city and a lot more police cars on patrol."
In the July 2009 ethnic violence, at least 200 people were killed, according to official figures, prompting China's leaders to send in troops and pull the plug on the region's Internet access for months.
The Chinese government has also stepped up official propaganda in recent weeks, residents said.
"They have been sending out a lot of propaganda lately about the China-Eurasia Expo," the first Urumqi resident said, referring to an Urumqi-based trade fair promoted by Beijing as a means to boost the region's prosperity.
"They seem to take this very seriously."
A second Urumqi resident said: "They are sending out broadcast messages to everyone. I just saw on my way here that I'd got a text message on my cell phone."
"It's about tidying up the city-the same as the billboards out on the streets," he added.
Another resident of Urumqi said the same pattern was now occurring across Xinjiang, where many ethnic minority Muslim Uyghurs chafe against Beijing's rule.
"This is a very sensitive date for the region," he said.
The Expo will be held from Sept 1 to 5 in the Xinjiang International Convention Center in Urumqi, official media reported, and will showcase, among other thing, Xinjiang's rich energy and mineral resources.
Meanwhile, a resident of the prefectural capital of Gulja (in Chinese, Yining) near the border with Kazakhstan, said there were armored cars patrolling the streets.
"Security is extremely tight here in Gulja," said the man, surnamed Han. "There are armored vehicles patrolling the streets."
"There are Urumqi police everywhere, not just in Urumqi but in Gulja as well," he said.
Han said the authorities in Gulja had more need to clamp down than those in Urumqi.
"There is a huge sense of popular grievance in Gulja," he said. "The government there is very authoritarian and very corrupt."
China has blamed exiled Uyghur dissident Rebiya Kadeer for instigating the deadly ethnic unrest in the region. But Kadeer has denied the charges, saying that the violence was sparked by decades of discrimination and persecution directed at Uyghurs, their religion and culture, by the ruling Communist Party.
Many Uyghurs, who twice enjoyed short-lived independence as the state of East Turkestan during the 1930s and 40s, are bitterly opposed to Beijing’s rule in Xinjiang.
Focus on Gulja
Mass unrest in Gulja in 1997 resulted in a crackdown in the city that went largely unnoticed by the outside world, overseas rights groups say.
The city has been a focus, even before the violence in Urumqi, of "strike hard" campaigns targeting Uyghurs, often in the name of anti-terrorism operations.
International rights groups have accused Beijing of using the U.S. “war on terror” to crack down on nonviolent supporters of Uyghur independence.
Beijing blames Uyghur separatists for sporadic bombings and other violence in the Xinjiang region, and has promised to try to boost economic gains for ethnic minorities in the region.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.