Kunming railway station attack
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A candlelit vigil is held at Kunming, following the massacre of 29 civilians. Photo: AP

Candlelit vigil at Kunming station after massacre by 'Xinjiang separatists' leaves 29 civilians dead

Twenty-nine civilians hacked to death by rampaging knifemen at one of China's busiest railway stations were remembered at a candlelit vigil on Sunday night as Chinese authorities said "Xinjiang separatists" were to blame for the attack.

At least 33 people were killed and more than 130 wounded when about a dozen men and women dressed in black, some wearing masks, marauded through the station, slashing and stabbing at passengers indiscriminately, just after 9.30pm on Saturday.

City officials described the slaughter as an "organised terrorist attack" by "Xinjiang separatists", although as of Sunday night no evidence had been officially presented to back the claim.

Four attackers - three men and one woman - were shot dead by police at the scene, while another woman suspect was arrested and is currently in custody while receiving medical treatment.

Candles burn outside Kunming railway station to remember the dead and wounded. Photo: AP
Roads surrounding the train station were sealed off to vehicles until noon, while armed police wearing bullet-proof vests guarded the station’s plaza and patrolled nearby streets where some of the attackers were gunned down.

The attack came ahead of the opening of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) on Monday and the National People’s Congress on Wednesday.

Watch: Xinjiang separatists behind deadly China rail attack: Xinhua

This is traditionally the most politically sensitive time of the year, with the government eager to maintain stability and paint a rosy picture as thousands of delegates and government leaders head to the capital.

The vigil was attended by more than 100 people, who converged on Kunming station plaza where a letter was read out as they mourned the victims.

"We condemn all kinds of terrorits acts, especially those targeting civilians in a multi-ethnic city like Kunming,'' said Wu Bo, a Sichuan migrant worker looking for jobs in Kunming.

"We came here voluntarily, to express our condolences. We are very sad and angry. Its too sudden, we never seen anyrhing like it before," wu said.

"Tonight we are all Kunming people," he said, adding there would be more two vigils in the following two days.

A 53-year-old man said he was very saddened by the incident but he urged the public to question the government over the problems in Xinjiang.

"We were never told why there was so much unrest there," he said.

"Did our government treat the Xinjiang locals as brutal as the way they treated us? What did our government do there to attract that much anger?" He asked.

Among those being treated, the youngest patient was 19 and the eldest 70, said Sun. Four of the patients were still unconscious.

Those in critical conditions included a six-months-pregnant woman from Nanning, Guangxi. Doctors said the baby was still alive but were not sure whether it could be safely delivered in the future as the woman suffered heavy blood loss.

“Judging from the wounds, many of the injured suffered more than one stab.… The knives had very sharp heads and were at least 50 centimetres long,” Sun said.

A 25-year-old nurse trainee at the same hospital told the Post that he saw five people dead in the hospital’s emergency room on Saturday night.

“These killed were either stabbed in the heart, neck, or the top of the head,” he recalled, “The floor was covered in blood... Our janitor cleaned it up but it was soon covered in blood again.”

Following the attack a number of local residents went to the site to take photos of the devastation.

“We have never seen anything like this in Kunming before. Many shops near the train stations are closed out of fear of more attacks. It’s too brutal, they didn’t even show mercy to children,” a 32-year-old tea shop owner told the South China Morning Post.

Online pictures showed doctors treating the injured. Photo: SMP
A 38-year-old motorcyclist who said he witnessed the attack, said: "As usual, I parked my bike waiting for customers last night by the red lights outside the train station.

“All of a sudden I saw flocks of people running from the train station plaza, screaming.

“I saw a person dressed in black wearing a mask running towards my direction with a knife in his hand,” said the driver, who declined to be named. “When he reached the red lights, he kicked over a police motorcycle. I immediately ran for my life. It was so scary.”

Two security guards were killed and seven police officers wounded in the attack, state broadcaster CCTV reported, adding that no foreign nationals or citizens of Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan had been killed or hurt.

One police officer, Xie Lin, from the railway station’s police station, was in stable condition after being severely injured fighting the attackers, the Ministry of Public Security said on its weibo account. Previously, the ministry had mistakenly announced that he was killed.

Witnesses said police took away three people with their faces covered near Camellia Park in Kunming yesterday morning, but the Yunnan Information Daily quoted local police as saying they were not related to the attack.

The injured were being treated at 11 hospitals in Kunming, CCTV reported. Three major hospitals which received most of the injured told the Post they were making every effort in rescuing victims and had sufficient manpower.

Police officers patrol outside a railway station after an attack by knife wielding men left some 33 dead in Kunming, in southwestern China's Yunnan province. Photo: AP
The Kunming Blood Centre’s spokesman said the number of blood donators doubled, with 600 to 700 people coming forward as of early yesterday afternoon. Reserve met demands at the moment.

President Xi Jinping called for "all-out efforts" in the investigation and for the attackers to be punished "with severity in accordance with the law", Xinhua said.

"Understand the serious and complex nation of combating terrorism. Go all out to maintain social stability," it quoted Xi as saying.

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations said on Sunday there was no justification for the killing of innocent civilians and hoped those responsible would be brought to justice.

The governments of Russia, France, US, and Japan condemned the attack and extended condolences to the victims, China Central Television reported.

Chinese police officers check bodies that appear to be of assailants who attacked a railway station in Kunming in southwestern China's Yunnan province. Photo: AP
Meng Jianzhu, secretary of the Communist Party’s Central Politics and Law Commission, arrived in Kunming to oversee the police investigation early on Sunday.

"All-out efforts should be made to treat the injured people, severely punish terrorists according to the law, and prevent the occurrence of similar cases, to ensure the safety of people's lives and property and social stability," he said.

One knife victim named Yang Haifei, who was wounded in the chest and back, told Xinhua that he had been buying a train ticket when the attackers approached and had tried to escape with the crowd.

"I saw a person come straight at me with a long knife and I ran away with everyone," he said, while others "simply fell on the ground".

Some who had escaped were desperately looking for missing loved ones. "I can't find my husband, and his phone went unanswered," Yang Ziqing was quoted as saying.

Graphic pictures posted on weibo showed victims lying in pools of blood inside and outside the station, while others showed blood, luggage and clothes scattered on the floor of the ticket hall.

President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang sent condolences to the victims and their families.

Blood, luggage and clothes scattered on the floor of the ticket hall.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Railway station rampage blamed on separatists