Urumqi drill ahead of riot anniversary

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 12 June, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 June, 2010, 12:00am

Police in Xinjiang have staged their largest anti-riot drill since deadly unrest rocked the regional capital, Urumqi, in July last year.

Beijing, apparently adopting a carrot-and-stick approach, has also launched a training programme for elite cadres around the country before sending them off to 'help with Xinjiang's development'.

The measures follow a top-level meeting in Beijing last month that mapped out development plans for the region for the next 10 years, following the instability brought by the violent unrest on July 5.

Thursday's drill, involving nearly 1,000 armed police and special police, simulated a riot triggered by a traffic accident in Urumqi.

The city's police initiated a first-level anti-riot contingency plan as 'bystanders' swelled into a big crowd around the accident scene and later committed crimes such as looting, arson and vandalism. Special police, SWAT teams, and armed police were then called in to contain the situation. A China News Service report said the drill was designed to test the response of different police divisions to an emergency situation and clarify the division of labour.

While the drill sought to imitate the intensity of last year's unrest, it covered up a key trigger of the deadly rioting - ethnic tensions between Han Chinese and Uygurs. Aside from coming up with a far less sensitive cause for the simulated unrest, no Uygur-looking participants could be seen in photographs taken by official media.

July's rioting, the biggest clash between Han Chinese and Uygurs in recent history, began with a seemingly peaceful protest in Urumqi by Uygur students upset over the deaths of two Uygurs in a Guangdong factory brawl. But events later took a violent turn, with nearly 200 lives lost, mostly Han Chinese but also members of other ethnic groups, including Uygurs.

Critics have since stepped up calls for changes to China's ethnic policies, which they said were unfair to minority groups and suppressed their religious and other pursuits.

On the defensive about its policies, Beijing followed up with a pump-priming approach to handle problems in Tibet and also decided to boost investment in Xinjiang.

As part of the measures to boost the region's development, Beijing is also sending elite cadres from other parts of the country to work in Xinjiang. The Central Party School recently held a nine-day training programme to broaden their knowledge of Xinjiang.

Officials from various ministries lectured on aspects of the region, from its history and religious background to the government's fight against separatism.

The authorities have put the crackdown on the so-called 'three forces' - terrorism, separatism and extremism - at the top of their agenda in Xinjiang.

Deadly unrest

Total number of lives lost in last July's deadly riots in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi was nearly: 200