Security forces in Urumqi back on high alert day after shooting
Will Clem in Urumqi
Security measures were cranked up a notch in Urumqi yesterday, although by nightfall there had been no repeat of Monday's shootings.
Particularly in Uygur districts of the city, soldiers and police were noticeably on high alert, apparently prepared to be attacked at any moment.
Guards stationed on street corners stood in groups of no fewer than three, positioned back to back to prevent ambush, and riot shields held at the ready.
As in previous days those carrying semi-automatic rifles had bayonets fitted, but for the first time their blades were unsheathed.
In recent days street patrols had been largely scaled back to open-backed jeeps travelling in threes, with about 10 soldiers in each vehicle. Yesterday they were stepped back up to convoys of trucks laden with troops.
In a further escalation, heavy machine guns had also been fitted to the roofs of many of the truck cabs.
Police in Urumqi shot two Uygurs dead and injured a third on Monday, the first official confirmation of security forces opening fire since the outbreak of racial violence on July 5.
The explanation for the incident - which prompted a massive police and paramilitary response - was that the three suspects had been attacking a fourth Uygur using knives and clubs. Public Security Bureau officers gunned down the attackers after firing warning shots, according to the statement.
A Xinhua report said yesterday that three Uygurs had been trying to incite jihad, or holy war, during lunchtime prayers at the White Mosque, close to where the shootings occurred.
Xinhua quoted an unnamed imam at the mosque as saying that one of the three had tried to disrupt the religious ceremony, and the weapons were produced when they were ordered to leave.
However, reports by overseas media and agencies quote numerous witnesses saying the Uygurs had attacked the police officers before the shootings.
At least one police officer is known to have been wounded in the incident, but there was no mention of it in the official report.
The White Mosque appeared to be closed when a South China Morning Post reporter visited yesterday. Staff at the gates refused entry and said they knew nothing about the incident.
'All the people who were here yesterday have gone away,' said one, who declined to give his name.
Security guards working at shops in the immediate vicinity of the shooting all said they were not on duty the previous afternoon.
Shop attendants either said they knew nothing of the attack or claimed that they could not speak Putonghua.
'Nobody will speak to you,' said one Uygur sitting by the entrance to an underground market opposite the scene of the attack. 'Look how many troops and police there are here. How would anyone dare?'
Witnesses also said the siege of a maternity hospital close to Monday's shooting had ended with no arrests.
Hundreds of policemen and soldiers supported by armoured personnel carriers had surrounded the hospital, which witnesses at the time said was because they were searching for one unarmed Uygur suspect.
Journalists were cleared from the scene before it was resolved, and there was no mention of the siege in the official statement.
'The police were here for several hours, but in the end they left without finding anyone,' said a shopkeeper in a convenience store opposite who would not give his name.