China imposes airline-like restrictions on bus passengers in Xinjiang capital

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has banned bus passengers in the capital of western Xinjiang region from carrying items ranging from cigarette lighters to yogurt, state media said on Friday, in the latest effort by authorities to prevent violent attacks.

The new rules in the capital Urumqi, similar to restrictions usually imposed by airlines, reflect how nervous officials are about trying to contain outbreaks of violence in the region, home to the Muslim Uighur minority.

Xinjiang has been beset by violence for years, blamed by the government on Islamist militants and separatists it says are bent on establishing an independent state called East Turkestan.

Fires have erupted on buses in various parts of China, including in two eastern cities, Hangzhou and Guangzhou. Authorities have blamed those incidents on arsonists, not militants.

The local government in Urumqi, a city of three million, issued new rules after a transport security meeting, barring passengers from bringing on board liquids, lighters and unknown powders “to strike a severe blow on all forms of criminal activity on public buses,” the state-run Legal Daily said.

Banned substances include gasoline and firecrackers, but also drinking water, cooking oil and yogurt. Restrictions on liquids have been in force for several years on aircraft, aimed at preventing militants from bringing on board sophisticated, hard-to-detect explosives.

The Legal Daily said at least two security guards would conduct hand checks and bag searches at every bus stop on 154 Urumqi bus routes and stop passengers with banned items from boarding.

“Bus drivers have two roles - while successfully carrying out their regular tasks they will also conduct security checks on suspicious individuals,” the newspaper said.

Such searches are already carried out at subway stations in many cities, but implementing the ban on packed and heaving buses could prove more challenging.

Rights advocates say heavy-handed policies in Xinjiang, including restrictions on Islam and the Uighur people’s culture and language, have contributed to unrest. Authorities reject those assertions.

About 200 people have died in unrest in Xinjiang in the past year, including a suicide bombing that killed 39 people at a market in Urumqi in May. Some 200 died in riots pitting Uighurs against Han Chinese in the city in 2009.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Ron Popeski