By Lucy Hornby
URUMQI, China Sept 4 (Reuters) - China has announced arrests and indictments over deadly ethnic riots that struck the far western city of Urumqi in July as officials sought to prevent fresh protests by Han Chinese residents demanding protection.
Thousands of Han Chinese protested in Urumqi, regional capital of Xinjiang, on Thursday. Some demanded the resignation of the region’s veteran Communist Party Secretary after a wave of claims that residents were victims of attacks with syringes. [ID:PEK64821]
Urumqi’s streets were empty and guarded by troops carrying riot shields and rifles after authorities imposed a night-time curfew in response to the noisy 3,000-strong gathering in People’s Square.
Green trucks ferried reinforcements to the square. Residents said schools had been ordered closed.
Thursday’s new tumult jolted the city two months after the ethnic riots of July 5, when a protest by Muslim Uighurs in Urumqi gave way to a spree of killings and violence across the city that left 197 people dead, most of them Han Chinese.
Two days later, Uighur neighbourhoods in the city were attacked by Han Chinese demanding revenge.
Xinjiang’s population is divided mainly between Uighurs, a Turkic people who were long the region’s majority group, and Han Chinese, many of whom moved there in recent decades. Most residents of Urumqi are Han. (For facts on Xinjiang see [ID:SP161168])
Residents said the latest protests over the claimed syringe attacks also reflected Han Chinese feeling that punishment over the July rioting was too slow in coming.
SUSPECTS CHARGED, INDICTED
The Xinjiang government, apparently trying to staunch that anger, announced on Thursday that 196 suspects have been charged over the July riot. Fifty-one were indicted and will face prosecution.
The announcement was reported by Xinhua news agency late on Thursday, and a similar message was sent via text messages to Urumqi residents by the government from Wednesday evening, after a smaller protest that day over the claimed syringe attacks.
Some Han Chinese residents remained unimpressed.
"I think the government has been way too lax towards the Uighurs," a Han shop owner identifying himself as Zhang told Reuters.
"This policy has got to change. We shouldn’t have all these minorities, we should only have one Chinese ethnicity."
The latest upheaval exposed Xinjiang’s volatility despite a crackdown after the July violence. It brought rare public demands for Wang Lequan, who has fashioned himself as the region’s strongman, to leave office after 14 years as Party chief.
Residents massed in the square said Wang emerged on a balcony on Thursday to address the crowd.
"Resign Wang Lequan, the government is useless!" the protesters chanted outside the regional government building in Urumqi. Others called for his execution.
Government text messages in past days warning of attackers armed with hypodermic needles may have stoked the rising alarm.
The Xinjiang health office has said that over the past two weeks 476 people have gone to hospital to report apparent syringe stabbings — 433 of them Han Chinese. Regional television said doctors had "found clear syringe marks in 89 cases".
But rumours of AIDS patients attacking people with hypodermic needles have previously rattled parts of China, but were later shown to be unfounded. (Writing by Chris Buckley; Editing by Ron Popeski)