Latest Urumqi unrest weighs on party boss

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 05 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 05 September, 2009, 12:00am

The latest unrest in Urumqi has turned up the heat on Xinjiang Communist Party boss Wang Lequan , nicknamed 'the stability secretary' because of his obsession with keeping a lid on trouble.

In the biggest rally since the rioting between Han Chinese and Uygurs two months ago, tens of thousands of Han marched in the streets on Thursday, calling for Wang to step down. Protesters blamed him for failing to protect them from the bloody clashes in early July and again failing to stop mysterious syringe attacks that have caused panic in the city.

In the past, Wang has been a target of Uygur criticism because of his iron-fisted ethnic policy. But this time it was the Han baying for his blood. Although Beijing has been supportive of the beleaguered party boss, who has been in charge of the region since 1994, the latest protests are bound to put pressure on him.

'Wang must be sacked because he underestimated the scale of the rioting and failed to take resolute measures to crack down on Uygur criminals,' one protester said.

'Everyone is angry at him, as our normal lives have been disrupted and people killed because of his terrible mistakes.'

He and other protesters said they wanted better government protection and that Beijing should replace Wang with someone tougher who could bring the situation under control as soon as possible.

Professor Pan Zhiping, a specialist in Central Asian affairs at Xinjiang Academy of Social Sciences, said: 'The fresh protests underlined deep dissatisfaction among local people towards the government's handling of the July 5 riots.'

Analysts fear the situation will not be brought under control soon, with ethnic tensions and simmering unrest threatening to erupt again at any time.

Beijing-based political commentator Hu Xingdou said the latest protests, which followed an inspection trip by President Hu Jintao , had further embarrassed local authorities.

Ethnic strife was likely to turn into a political storm, which would inevitably lead to the punishment of some local officials, he said. But he added that it was hard to see that Wang would be affected. 'Instead of reviewing flaws and problems with its own ethnic policies, the government is accustomed to putting the blame on external forces.'

Li Zhi, Urumqi's Communist Party boss, has accused separatist forces of plotting the syringe stabbings to 'stir up ethnic antagonism, overturn social order ... and split the Chinese nation'.

Political analysts said there had been no precedent on the mainland where senior officials, such as Wang - a Politburo member - had been sacked over protests and unrest.

Dr Li Wei, a Beijing-based anti-terrorism expert, said the syringe attacks were just part of the fallout from the July rioting and similar attacks were likely to follow.

The riots would have an adverse impact for a long time and it appeared that the syringe attacks were just the beginning of a vicious circle, said Li, who is director of the anti-terrorism research centre of the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations.

He said local authorities should learn lessons from their handling of the rioting and try to restore public confidence by introducing sweeping security measures. 'It is a grave challenge for the local government and it will take some time before peace and security return.'