China struggles to assure people of stability in wake of violent attacks

BEIJING Thu Jun 12, 2014 9:26am EDT

Paramilitary policemen patrol past a building, where a window was damaged by an explosion in Urumqi on Thursday, in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in this photo taken by Kyodo on May 22, 2014.  REUTERS/Kyodo

Paramilitary policemen patrol past a building, where a window was damaged by an explosion in Urumqi on Thursday, in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, in this photo taken by Kyodo on May 22, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Kyodo

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BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese residents and investors believe in the "illusion" that explosions and murder are rampant in the unrest-plagued far-west region of Xinjiang, an official said on Thursday, in the wake of knife and bomb attacks that have shaken the country.

His remarks underscore China's struggle to reassure its people that it can maintain stability as it cracks down on any hint of rejection of rule by Beijing, whether in Xinjiang or Tibet.

"Some of our comrades don't understand Xinjiang enough and panic when some violent incidents take place, believing that everywhere in Xinjiang there are murders, explosions and rampant chaos," Xu Weihua, deputy political commissar of the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps, told reporters.

"This is an illusion... There are some who are not investing who I believe are not too wise. They will regret it later."

China has been on edge since a suicide bombing last month killed 39 people at a morning vegetable market in Xinjiang's capital of Urumqi.

In March, 29 people were stabbed to death at a train station in the southwestern city of Kunming. A car burst into flames at the edge of Beijing's Tiananmen Square in October, killing five people. Beijing blamed both attacks on Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic group, from Xinjiang.

Fears of more attacks in crowded public spaces have sparked panics in the subways of Beijing and the southern metropolis of Guangzhou.

Six passengers were bruised in a stampede on Saturday when one passenger fainted on a train in Guangzhou and others shouted that he had been slashed with a knife, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

Last Thursday, a fight between passengers at a hectic transfer station on Beijing's subway sent riders scrambling for the exits.

"I think the concern is a bit overblown," said Yang Shu, a terrorist expert at Lanzhou University. "The violence has been mostly confined to Xinjiang and a few other places. This does not reflect the stability of the whole country."

Local and provincial law enforcement authorities have adopted measures meant to prevent further attacks, and checks at train stations and subways have been strengthened.

In the northern province of Liaoning, police vowed to crack down on the sale of matches, gasoline and fireworks to combat terrorism, media reported last month.

The recent attacks, the most violent in years, have shaken China's stability-obsessed government, which has vowed to crack down on religious separatists and extremism with force.

Police in Xinjiang have arrested or tried dozens of suspects in recent weeks for spreading extremist propaganda, harboring banned weapons and other crimes.

Xinjiang is the traditional home of the Uighurs. Beijing says separatist groups there are seeking to form their own state called East Turkestan, though experts dispute the influence and reach of the most prominent group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

Rights activists and exile groups have charged that the government's own repressive policies in Xinjiang, as in Tibet, have sowed the seeds of unrest, a claim Beijing strongly denies.

President Xi Jinping has pledged to alleviate poverty and improve ethnic relations in Xinjiang, an indication that China's leaders recognize some of the causes of the violence.

David Zweig, a China scholar at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said making the system more equitable for Uighurs could be a remedy for the spread of extremism.

"China is in a very difficult situation," Zweig said. "There are short-term and long-term solutions - a long-term solution would be to make the system fair to the Uighurs, but (authorities) probably don't see it that way."

(Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan, additional reporting by Alexandra Harney and Shanghai Newsroom; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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