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China sacks two amid violence in Urumqi
Published on: 2009-09-07
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URUMQI, China -- China sacked the top Communist Party official of the city of Urumqi, as well as the police chief of the northwestern region of Xinjiang, after antigovernment demonstrations by thousands of Han Chinese in which authorities say five people died and 14 were injured.

The move on Saturday, announced by the official Xinhua News Agency, appeared designed to defuse growing anger among Han Chinese, who complain that Communist authorities and the security forces have provided inadequate protection since ethnic riots killed nearly 200 people in Urumqi in July.

Popular rage has turned to panic amid a spate of recent stabbings in Urumqi by assailants armed with syringes, which Han residents blame on mainly Muslim Uighurs.

The abrupt removal of the two officials came a day after China's public security minister arrived in Urumqi with a message to local officials to "restore social order as soon as possible."

Xinhua offered no reason for the firing of Li Zhi, secretary of the Urumqi Municipal Committee of the Communist Party, and Liu Yaohua, director of the Xinjiang Autonomous Regional Public Security Department.

The decision to dump the two officials underlines the sense of alarm in Beijing at the breakdown of public order in Xinjiang in the runup to the politically sensitive 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on Oct. 1. It suggests that Beijing leaders' fear of social chaos in Xinjiang outweighed any considerations of the political risk of appearing to cave in to unlawful street protests.

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Urumqi on Thursday, according to Xinhua, and witnesses said many in the crowds chanted for the removal of Xinjiang's top party leader, Wang Lequan, a member of the party's ruling Politburo. It was not immediately clear whether the firing of the two lesser officials would be sufficient to appease angry Han and take the pressure off Mr. Wang.

On Friday, the executive vice mayor of Urumqi, Zhang Hong, said that of the five people killed in Thursday's protests, two were "innocent" bystanders and authorities are looking into the circumstances of the other three deaths.

The depth of Han Chinese animosity toward the ruling Communist Party and the chasm that has grown between the majority Han and the predominantly Muslim Uighurs with whom they live in this part of the country pose a major challenge for China's leaders.

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