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THE STANS
31 dead, scores wounded in attack in China's Xinjiang
by Staff Writers
Urumqi, China (AFP) May 22, 2014


Photo courtesy AFP.

Blood-stained bodies and scattered fruit left by China attack
Urumqi, China (AFP) May 22, 2014 - Slumped next to fruit ordinarily for sale but now scattered on the ground, blood-stained bodies were grim evidence of a terrifying attack on a market that left 31 dead in China's Xinjiang region on Thursday.

"I saw people lying all over the place, it was a very bad sight. There was blood everywhere," said a taxi driver surnamed Pan, who was one of the first to arrive at the scene after explosives were thrown at the street market from two vehicles which ploughed into shoppers and traders.

The scene in Urumqi, in the restive Xinjiang region, would normally be a hive of activity, with elderly people buying and selling vegetables and fruit displayed in wooden carts and cardboard boxes parked on the narrow pavements, Pan said.

But that picture of calm had evaporated minutes after the attack early on Thursday, with many of the dead laying in the middle of the road and survivors sat on stools still in shock, their faces covered in blood, graphic images which Pan took with his mobile phone showed.

Other images showed market stalls lying collapsed on the floor, with bodies motionless in pools of blood alongside them.

Another showed the mangled wreckage of a bicycle, lying on the floor next to a lifeless body, while an elderly woman behind attempted to get to her feet, appearing dazed with blood covering half her face.

The devastating attack was described by authorities as the latest "severe terrorist incident" to hit the Muslim Uighur homeland.

"When I saw the victims I felt shocked, and then I felt really angry. Angry towards the terrorists," Pan told AFP, still visibly moved by what he had witnessed.

"How can they do this at a market where elderly people shop?"

More than 90 people were also wounded when the two off-road vehicles drove into the crowd, with one exploding.

Pan's images clearly show a huge ball of fire at the end of the street with startled shoppers in the foreground still clutching their groceries.

A local restaurant owner named Shan told AFP that many of the residents living nearby were battling to come to terms with what had happened.

"It was very horrible today, I was very scared," Shan told AFP.

"The street is cordoned off now. There are loads of police outside, and no businesses are open."

Many of the shops and restaurants at the scene of the attack, Gongyuan Bei Jie, or North Park Street, gradually opened during the course of the day as authorities cleared up much of the devastation.

One resident told AFP that cleaners had been deployed to clear up the blood-stained road.

China commonly attempts to clear such scenes to ensure the local population returns to normal as quickly as possible.

But for Pan, what he witnessed will not easily leave his mind.

"I still can't believe what I saw," he said, staring at his mobile phone.

Attackers killed at least 31 people Thursday when they ploughed two vehicles into a market and threw explosives in the capital of China's Xinjiang region, in what authorities called the latest "severe terrorist incident" to hit the Muslim Uighur homeland.

More than 90 people were also wounded when two off-road vehicles drove into a crowd in Urumqi, with one of them exploding, the regional government's Tianshan web portal said, in an attack with echoes of a fiery car crash in Tiananmen Square last year.

China has seen a series of incidents in recent months targeting civilians, sometimes far from Xinjiang itself, that authorities have blamed on separatists from the vast and resource-rich region in the country's far west.

The United States and the United Nations condemned the violence in Urumqi, where residents were shocked by the carnage.

"I saw people lying all over the place, it was a very bad sight. There was blood everywhere," said a taxi driver surnamed Pan, who was one of the first to arrive at the scene.

"How can they do this at a market where elderly people shop?"

Many of the dead lay in the middle of the road and survivors sat on stools still in shock, their faces covered in blood, graphic images obtained by AFP showed.

Chinese President Xi Jinping pledged to "severely punish violent terrorists", maintain a "strike first" policy and "crack down on them with a heavy fist", state broadcaster CCTV said.

A witness at the market told the official news agency Xinhua he heard a dozen "big bangs" during the attack at about 7:50 am (2350 GMT Wednesday), when morning markets are typically crowded.

- US, UN express horror -

The White House swiftly condemned the "horrific terrorist attack", after Chinese social media users had criticised the United States for not using the term "terrorism" to describe earlier attacks blamed by authorities on members of the Uighur minority.

Russian President Vladimir Putin sent his condolences, Xinhua reported, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon issued a statement saying there was "no justification for the killing of civilians."

Many of the shops and restaurants at the scene of the attack, Gongyuan Bei Jie, or North Park Street, gradually opened during the course of the day as authorities cleared up much of the devastation.

The street where the explosions happened was heavily patrolled by armed police late Thursday, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.

- Increasing technical abilities -

China has repeatedly blamed violence in the region on separatist groups seeking independence for Xinjiang, but few analysts consider there have been any credible claims of responsibility for the attacks.

On April 30, the final day of a visit by Xi to the region, assailants armed with knives and explosives carried out an attack at a railway station in Urumqi, killing one person and wounding 79. Two attackers also died.

In March, knifemen went on a stabbing spree at a railway station in Kunming in southwestern China, around 2,500 kilometres (1,500 miles) away from Urumqi, killing 29 people and wounding 143 in an incident dubbed "China's 9/11" by state media.

Four flights were diverted over bomb scares later Thursday, airlines and reports said, illustrating the tensions over the violence.

Recent incidents have shown the attackers' "technical and organisational skills are increasing", Shan Wei, a political scientist at the National University of Singapore's East Asian Institute, told AFP.

"They can choose the site and timing of attacks, and the challenge to the Chinese government is increasing very fast," he added. "Every time its response is to crack down."

Thursday's blasts came a day after state media reported that courts in Xinjiang jailed 39 people for up to 15 year for offences including spreading "terrorist videos".

"Quite a number of these attacks have no relation to separatist movements, it's venting frustration at the Chinese government... including restrictions on religion," said Willy Lam, a China analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

In 2009, riots erupted in Urumqi between Uighurs and Han Chinese, the country's ethnic majority, leaving 200 people dead.

- Fears in Uighur community -

Critics say Beijing exaggerates the security threat in Xinjiang to justify hard-line measures, and that tensions are driven by cultural oppression, intrusive security measures and immigration by majority Han Chinese which have led to decades of discrimination and economic inequality.

Dilshat Rexit, a spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said in a statement emailed to AFP he could not confirm the ethnicity of Thursday's attackers.

But he said: "The worsening situation has a direct relationship with Beijing's repressive policies. Unbearable repression and despair lead people to fight."

He urged Beijing not to step up its crackdown, adding: "I am particularly worried that this event may lead to loss of freedom for more Uighurs."

Beijing says that its policies in the region have brought prosperity and higher living standards.

The attack sparked outrage on Sina Weibo, with many calling for action against the assailants.

"We should learn anti-terrorist methods from the US and Israel which is about talking less nonsense, showing less mercy and killing them all," said one poster.

US condemns 'terrorist' attack in China's Xinjiang
Washington (AFP) May 22, 2014 - The United States on Thursday condemned the "horrific terrorist attack" that killed at least 31 in China's Xinjiang, voicing strong opposition to violence targeting civilians.

The swift condemnation comes after Chinese social media users criticized the United States for not immediately using the term "terrorism" to describe earlier attacks blamed by authorities on members of the Uighur minority.

"The United States condemns the horrific terrorist attack in Urumqi," White House press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement.

"This is a despicable and outrageous act of violence against innocent civilians, and the United States resolutely opposes all forms of terrorism," he said, offering sympathies on behalf of the United States.

Authorities said that at least 31 people were killed as attackers rammed two vehicles into a market and threw explosives in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

The attack is the latest in recent months to target civilians in China. In March, masked assailants said by authorities to be Uighurs went on a stabbing spree in a train station of the southwestern city of Kunming, killing 29 people and wounding more than 130 more.

The United States condemned the "terrible and senseless act of violence" in Kunming but nationalist Chinese web users, who dubbed the incident "China's 9/11," attacked Washington for not immediately using the term terrorism.

The United States, while condemning attacks, has frequently called on China to address grievances of the mostly Muslim Uighur people, including restrictions on their religious and political activities.

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