Tight security prevents flare-up on anniversary of clashes in Urumqi

Four years after nearly 200 people were killed in riots in Xinjiang capital, a heavy military presence defuses threat of further clashes

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 06 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 06 July, 2013, 3:42am

The fourth anniversary of bloody ethnic clashes passed without major incident in Urumqi yesterday as an intense security ring closed around the Xinjiang capital and tourists stayed off the streets.

The security presence has increased steadily in the region since outbreaks of violence in some of its ethnic Uygur communities last week, just days before the anniversary of the riots that killed nearly 200.

The central government sought to take no chances of another flare-up on the anxious date, especially as it fell on a Friday when Muslim Uygurs would attend prayers in advance of the holy month of Ramadan.

The security presence was the most obvious near the square outside the Xinjiang People's Theatre.

It is located at the intersection of Renmin and Jiefang roads, between where Urumqi's Han and Uygur communities meet.

The square, which was open on Thursday, was sealed off yesterday and under the watchful eyes People's Armed Police officers carrying machine guns.

About 10 military trucks loaded with PAP officers sat on one side of the square. A handful of police vehicles were parked at the other.

Red banners - reading: "Listen to the command of the Communist Party. Be capable of winning a war and maintain a fine style of work", in both Chinese and Uygur languages - were hung on each side of the trucks.

Helicopter patrols over Uygur communities appeared more frequent than in previous days. The sound of their rotors constantly caused passers-by to look up to the sky.

Meanwhile, thousands of Muslims flocked to numerous mosques in the city in preparation for Ramadan, which begins on July 9. Although Uygurs were allowed to go to mosques, the security around such religious places was tight.

On Limin Lane adjacent to the Erdaoqiao market - a spot that had seen many casualties on July 5, 2009 - Uygurs prayed in and around the Baitul Mosque under the close watch of police.

Dozens of police officers also sat across from the White Mosque in Tianshan district, a stone's throw from the landmark International Grand Bazaar - the largest in the world with a total area of 100,000 square metres.

A handful of military officers on the top of a multi-storey building next to the mosque could be seen videotaping everyone entering and leaving the building.

At the centre of the traditional Uygur-dominated business area around the Grand Bazaar and the Erdaoqiao trading market, stood an armoured police vehicle, with dozens of police officers deployed nearby.

In stark contrast to the scene before the deadly ethnic clashes in 2009, few tourists, either Han or foreigners, could be seen in the area.

About three out of every 10 shops inside the multi-storey Erdaoqiao complex were found closed yesterday, while most of the rest simply kept sitting and chatting with one another to pass the time.

"My business at present is far worse than that before the July 5 incident," said a middle-aged woman Uygur shopkeeper. "Who dares to come here after such bloody attacks one after another."

Xinjiang regional government spokesman Luo Fuyong denied any limits on tourists. "As a region which boasts a huge amount of resources, Xinjiang warmly welcomes holiday makers from different countries," he said.