HONG KONG—Authorities in the northwestern Chinese city of Urumqi have ordered an overnight traffic ban and posted armed police on public buses after a bizarre series of syringe stabbings that prompted a large-scale public outcry.
The city government banned traffic in the municipal center from 9 p.m. Monday until 9 a.m. Tuesday, with police guarding every intersection, the official news agency Xinhua said.
Mass protests were sparked in the regional capital last week after reports that hundreds of people had been stabbed with syringes in the city, with a demonstration Thursday leaving at least four dead.
Beijing blames Muslim separatist groups among ethnic Uyghurs for the syringe attacks in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) capital, Urumqi, which was riven by deadly ethnic strife in July that claimed nearly 200 lives, according to the government’s tally.
More than 500 people have sought treatment for syringe stabbings in recent days, though only about 100 showed signs of having been stabbed, official media said.
Witnesses meanwhile reported blockades outside predominantly Uyghur neighborhoods and armed police aboard pubic buses.
“All buses now have armed police aboard, and usually there are two of them sitting at the rear,” one young woman said in an interview.
“The city is currently halfway to qualify for a status of martial law. Some roads have only one lane open to traffic while cars are less than before,” she said.
“There were occasional attacks [today]. Despite the large number of armed police presence, however, they might be able to control a large group, but not every individual,” she added.
Uyghurs abroad reported that they were largely unable to contact friends and family in the Xinjiang region by telephone.
Unconfirmed rumors meanwhile circulated of syringe attacks in other parts of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR), including Shihezi, the second largest city, and Changji, in the central north.
An employee at the Changji City People’s Hospital, contacted Monday by telephone, said staff had received warnings but seen no syringe-attack cases.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, cited reports that some 100 Han Chinese had attacked a Uyghur residential area near Urumqi’s Xingfu Road and Jiefang South Road late Sunday, killing three and wounding more than 20.”
The dead included two men and a woman in her 40s.
He called for a United Nations inquiry and for Beijing to hold talks with exiled Uyghur leader Rebiya Kadeer, whom Chinese authorities have blamed for instigating deadly ethnic clashes in July.
Urumqi Communist Party chief Li Zhi was sacked over the weekend and replaced by Zhu Haicang, the head of the Xinjiang region's law-and-order committee.
Liu Yaohua, director of the Xinjiang Autonomous Regional Public Security Department, was also dismissed, according to official media.
Tens of thousands of angry Han Chinese took to the streets Thursday and Friday calling for the ouster of Wang Lequan, Xinjiang’s Communist Party secretary, blaming him for failing to ensure their security.
Original reporting by Qiao Long for RFA’s Mandarin service. Translated by Ping Chen. Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse. Mandarin service director: Jennifer Chou. Written in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.