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Kor Kian Beng
Monday, May 5, 2014

Asia

China on high alert

The Straits Times | Kor Kian Beng | Monday, May 5, 2014

rmed policemen on guard at the South Railway Station in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi, where two assailants using knives and explosives killed themselves and one bystander on Wednesday. Seventy-nine others were wounded.

Amid rising terrorism fears, especially as millions of Chinese travel across the country on their Labour Day holidays, many cities have launched unprecedented security measures, including authorising Swat police to shoot on sight if necessary.

The tightest security was seen in the Chinese capital Beijing, which is conducting 24-hour armed patrols in the city centre, transport hubs like railway stations and airports, and tourist attractions that have been packed with crowds amid the three-day holiday period starting from Thursday.

Vehicles picking up and dropping off passengers at Beijing's railway stations have to register and obtain a card before entering, reported the Beijing Youth Daily.

Eleven parks run by the municipal government have instituted security checks - confiscating inflammable objects like lighters - the first time they have done so during the Labour Day holidays.

There was even a surprise anti- terror drill at the Beijing Railway Station late Thursday night to test the response time of security forces; police arrived in 50 seconds and all required forces assembled in 15 minutes.

Over in southern Guangzhou, more than 10,000 police officers are conducting regular street patrols in the city of 8.5 million people. Some 397,000 security cameras have been switched on to provide round-the-clock surveillance.

In coastal Jiangsu province, some 4,000 Swat police, including snipers, have been deployed alongside 12,000 police officers. And central Henan's capital Zhengzhou has ordered police to use arms in 15 scenarios and to shoot on sight in a terror attack.

Fears of violence, particularly at crowded transport hubs in China, have risen significantly after three high-profile attacks in the country since last October.

On Wednesday night, two assailants using knives and explosives killed themselves and one bystander while injuring 79 others during an attack at the railway station in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi.

The bloodshed came just two months after a group of assailants killed 29 and injured 143 at the south-western Kunming railway station on March 1, and a suicide attack last October near Beijing's Tiananmen Square that killed three suspects and two others.

China blames the violence on separatists from Xinjiang, where Uighur Muslims are said to be unhappy about the massive influx of the Han majority, cultural erosion and oppressive security measures.

Chinese state media yesterday castigated overseas Uighur groups for condoning the latest attack, coming on the day President Xi Jinping ended his first tour of Xinjiang since taking power in late 2012.

Slamming comments by World Uyghur Congress spokesman Dilxat Raxit that "such incidents could happen again at any time", Xinhua news agency wrote in a commentary: "Could he be more licentious by being not even bothered to gloss over his bloodlust? Anyone who preaches killing one's own kind is a murderer."

But in another commentary, Xinhua said "a more important battle has to be fought on the fronts of unity and solidarity", on top of the fight against terrorism.

"Wednesday's attack is unlikely to be the end of attempts to disrupt peace and social stability. A long-term mechanism therefore must be built to ward off similar bloodshed in Xinjiang in the future," it added.

Singapore yesterday strongly condemned the Urumqi attack, saying "such dastardly acts of violence against innocent members of the public cannot be justified under any circumstances".

"We express our deepest condolences to the victims and their families and wish the injured a quick recovery. We hope the perpetrators will be apprehended and brought to justice," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

kianbeng@sph.com.sg

This article was published on May 3 in The Straits Times.

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