World News

Two held after aircraft toilet fire in China's Xinjiang

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police have detained two people after a domestic flight from the restless western region of Xinjiang was forced to turn around when a passenger set fire to toilet paper in the washroom, state media said on Saturday.

The official Xinhua news agency said the China Southern flight was bound for the central Chinese city of Wuhan.

“The crew of the flight CZ6939 ... discovered the passenger’s behavior some time after take-off,” Xinhua said, citing Xinjiang police sources.

“Two passengers, including a man and a woman, were taken away by police after the flight landed at the Diwobao International Airport in Urumqi,” it added, referring to Xinjiang’s regional capital.

“The case is being investigated,” Xinhua said, without elaborating.

In March 2008, Chinese officials said they stopped a plan by an ethnic Uighur woman to bring down a flight from Xinjiang.

A source with knowledge of the investigation told Reuters at the time that the woman tried to light flammable liquid smuggled in a canned drink in the plane’s toilet, but aroused the suspicion of crew and other passengers.

China subsequently banned passengers taking lighters or matches aboard flights. China airport security screening is normally very strict.

Xinjiang’s population of 21 million is divided mainly between Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people long the region’s majority, and Han Chinese, many of whom arrived in recent decades.

In July last year, Uighur protests in Urumqi gave way to deadly attacks that mainly targeted members of China’s Han Chinese majority. Many Uighurs resent the growing Han presence in the region.

At least 197 people died in the initial riots, mostly Han Chinese, and two days later Han residents held protests and staged revenge attacks on Uighur neighborhoods.

Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Jerry Norton