World Bulletin / News Desk
Chinese police used tear gas to disperse fresh protests in the city of Urumqi on Friday, state media reported, one day after tens of thousands took to the streets here.
Armed police fanned out across the tense city on Friday, one day after tens of thousands of people protested over a series of mysterious syringe attacks that residents blame on indigenous Muslim Uighur community.
The protests are occurring during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
The tension comes two months after Uyghur demonstrators took the streets in Urumqi on July 5 to protest against Han Chinese attacks on Uyghurs workers at a factory in south China in June which left two Uyghurs dead. Hans in Urumqi sought bloody revenge two days later.
The local government announced on Thursday that 196 suspects have been charged over the July protest. Fifty-one were indicted and will face prosecution.
Police vans patrolled streets with loudspeakers, telling people to go home, and used tear gas to disperse some of the angry gatherings. But with schools closed and bus routes through the city interrupted by road blocks, many in the crowds had little to do but mill about and break off into brief protests.
The government has also banned "unlicensed marches, demonstrations and mass protests" and will disperse or detain those who disobey, the official Xinhua news agency said.
During Thursday's protests, crowds called for regional Communist Party boss Wang Lequan to resign. Wang, who has held the region's most powerful position for 14 years, had made no appearances in state media on Friday, as of early evening.
Alarm spread in the city after government text messages a week ago warned of attacks with syringes.
Han Chinese residents also said they were the targets of mysterious attacks with syringes, blaming Uighurs on alleged syringe attacks in the capital.
But, Xinhua said victims came from nine ethnicities, including both Uighurs and Han Chinese.
"The main thing is, nobody here feels secure any more," said Zhen Guibin, a Han Chinese.
"These Uighurs have been stabbing us with needles," said a man trying to push through barriers sealing off a Uighur neighbourhood. "We need to take care of the problem."
Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, said pressure should be put on Beijing to open talks with Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur leader who lives in the United States and who China accused of organizing the July protest. She has denied the charges.
"The Chinese have never been told to respect the Uighur people," he said by telephone. "Uighurs have no feeling of security, not even at home.",
Raxit had on Thursday said local sources had told him 10 Uighurs had been betaen up.
"One Chinese ethnicity in Uighur region"
East Turkistan borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, has abundant oil reserves and is China's largest natural gas-producing region.
Name of East Turkistan was changed to "Xinjiang" by China in 1955.
The region had once had a majority of Uighurs, but later, Han Chinese were moved there in recent decades.
Angry crowds confronted paramilitary troops and police at intersections, demanding "more rights for Han people".
A group of young Han Chinese men unfurled a Chinese flag and tried to lead a march to People's Square shouting "safety". Police snatched away the flag, but the crowd continued shouting.
However, some Han Chinese residents want "one Chinese ethnicity in Uighur region."
"I think the government has been way too lax towards the Uighurs," said a Han shop owner who identified himself as Zhang.
"This policy has got to change. We shouldn't have all these minorities. We should only have one Chinese ethnicity."
But, Uighur residents said they were the victims of panic.
"There have been many Uighurs beaten up," said Arwa Quli, a Uighur woman who paused on her way to work to watch the crowds.
"If you just brush against someone, they might think that you tried to stab them."
The 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". No deaths, infections or poisonings had occurred.
Rumours of AIDS patients attacking people with hypodermic needles have previously rattled parts of China, but were later shown to be unfounded.
Meanwhile, human rights groups accuse Beijing of using claims of "terrorism" as an excuse to crack down on peaceful pro-independence sentiment and expressions of Uyghur identity.