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Despite Harmonious Urumqi Campaign, City Far From Normal

The authorities of Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, have launched a ‘Harmonious Urumqi’ campaign to improve the relations between the Uighurs and the Hans and between the residents and the administration. Under this campaign, which was launched on September 6,2009, 7,000 police officers and other public servants described as ‘harmony squads’ have been visiting families in various sensitive parts of the city to appeal to the families to help the authorities maintain inter-community harmony and social order. While launching the campaign, Wang Lequan, the Secretary of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Regional Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), said: “The officials will go door to door to explain policies and solve disputes.”

2. In spite of this campaign, the atmosphere in the city is far from normal. Though there have been no public demonstrations by the Han residents after September 5 and the local mosques have been holding their Ramadan prayers, there is an undercurrent of tension and the panic over the needle-stabbings still remains. Despite the stern warnings issued by the Public Security Department that those indulging in syringe-needle stabbings will be held guilty of an act of terrorism and may be sentenced to death, if guilty, reports of needle-stabbings continue to be received from different parts of the city.

3. Among the various measures taken by the authorities to improve the security situation and remove the panic in public are: Warnings of stern action against those indulging in needle-stabbings as well as against those making false reports of needle-stabbings; identity checks of all those buying chemicals and syringe needles; and warnings of strong action against those lynching suspects instead of handing them over to the police.

4. These measures have not had any impact so far. It has been reported that there is a scarcity of syringe needles in the pharmacies and doctors and hospitals have been facing difficulties in procuring them for their legitimate use. The” China Daily” of September 9,2009, has quoted the local Police as saying that there were 77 reports of needle-stabbings between 5 PM on September 6 and 5 PM on September 7. The police arrested 45 suspects of whom 33 were released after investigation for want of evidence against them of indulging in needle-stabbings and the remaining 12 have been detained for further investigation. The paper also reported that eight of those released have been sent to drug rehabilitation centres. This indicates that the police are rounding up known drug addicts in order to check whether any of them are indulging in needle-stabbings.

5. As a precautionary measure after the fresh reports of needle-stabbings, the authorities directed all shops to close early on the evenings of September 6 and 7 and imposed an undeclared night curfew on the two nights under the guise of traffic regulations for security reasons. Nothing untoward happened.

6. The authorities have ordered the demolition of a building in Urumqi belonging to Mrs.Rebiya Kadeer, the US-based head of the World Uighur Congress (WUC), on the alleged ground that it had become dangerous to public safety because of poor maintenance. The building was having a shopping complex with about 500 shops.

7. It was announced on September 8 that the fourth plenary session of the 17th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) will be held at Beijing from September 15 to 18 to discuss a draft document on improving Party building. Even though this has been projected as a routine meeting scheduled earlier before fresh troubles broke out in Urumqi, it is likely that the handling of the Urumqi situation by the local authorities will aso be discussed. Hu Jintao will chair the meeting. (9-9-09)

( The writer, Mr.B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: )

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