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Chinese Leadership Loses Face Over Urumqi Unrest

Posted September. 07, 2009 08:27,   


China’s leadership has lost face over the spate of needle attacks in the far western Chinese city of Urumqi, the South China Morning Post said yesterday.

The city is the capital of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and the leadership apparently refers to Chinese President Hu Jintao.

More than 530 people have reported attacks using syringes since Aug. 25. Han Chinese staged a massive protest to blame the attacks on Uyghurs. Five people were killed and 14 injured in the protest.

Urumqi, which had been returning to normal after the bloodshed in July, has been engulfed in ethnic tension and violence again.

The crisis is a headache for Hu, as his leadership ideology of harmony has been directly challenged. He visited the city late last month for the first time since the July unrest and his trip signaled that Urumqi had regained stability.

Encouraging Xinjiang officials who prevented the crisis from escalating and visiting Uyghur homes to emphasize national unity, Hu said the restoration of peace in Urumqi showed that China’s ethnic groups could build a harmonious society under the Communist Party’s leadership.

Then the needle attacks began.

Another sensitive issue is the demand in Xinjiang and Guangdong of the dismissal of senior party officials in the provinces. Acceptance of the demand could spark similar calls from other provinces across China at a sensitive time ahead of the 60th anniversary of China’s founding Oct. 1.

The officials in question are members of the Communist Youth League of China, Hu’s power base, and are also members of the party’s politburo, the party’s top commanding post. Rumors say strong calls for their dismissal were put down because of their league background.

Beijing fired the party’s secretary in Urumqi, Li Zhi, and the Xinjiang police chief, who name was not released. Hong Kong media say it is unclear whether the dismissals will calm down calls for the firing of Xinjiang’s party secretary Wang Lequan.

Overseas media call the two fired officials “scapegoats.” The unrest comes at a sensitive time before the planned meeting of the party’s Central Committee, while others predict a power struggle within the central government.

Sporadic small-scale protests erupted in Urumqi over the weekend. Political and media circles in Hong Kong demanded an apology from Urumqi authorities for police violence against three Hong Kong journalists.