China ramps up security for expo in troubled west

AP News
Posted: Aug 31, 2011 5:53 AM
China ramps up security for expo in troubled west

Already tight security in China's troubled Xinjiang region was ramped up further Wednesday ahead of a major Central Asian trade gathering in the capital Urumqi.

Police armed with automatic rifles patrolled across Urumqi, their vehicles parked on central People's Square. SWAT units manned the entrance to the first China-Eurasia Expo, and a low-altitude no-fly zone was declared over the city that even banned racing pigeons.

Travelers flying to Urumqi from Beijing, Shanghai and other cities faced more security checks, causing some delays.

Pakistan's President Asif Ali Zardari and Kyrgyzstan's caretaker President Roza Otunbayeva are among leaders attending the expo aimed at further cementing Urumqi's place as the regional epicenter for trade and industry.

China's official Xinhua News Agency quoted Zardari as pledging more effective cooperation with China on combating terrorism in a meeting with Xinjiang's newly appointed Communist Party head, the region's most powerful official. China claims some recent attacks in Xinjiang were carried out by militants who trained in Pakistan.

"Zardari stated that Pakistan opposes any terrorist activities and will work more closely with China in combating terrorism," Xinjiang reported.

The expo that opens Thursday comes amid a two-month "strike hard" crackdown against violence, terrorism and radical Islam following renewed ethnic violence among the region's native Uighur (pronounced WEE'-gur) population, ethnic Turks who are culturally, linguistically and religiously distinct from China's majority Han.

The campaign due to last through Oct. 15 includes around-the-clock patrols of trouble spots, identity checks and street searches of people and vehicles. Those suspected of plotting violence or separatist activity will be dealt with even more harshly through accelerated trials.

Beijing last month dispatched to Xinjiang its elite Snow Leopard anti-terrorism unit, which had been charged with securing the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is specially trained in anti-terrorism, riot control, bomb disposal and responding to hijackings.

Militant Uighurs have for decades been fighting a low-level insurgency to gain independence for lightly populated but resource-rich Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and several unstable Central Asian states.

At least three dozen people, including the attackers, were killed in three recent attacks in the cities of Hotan and Kashgar, despite a massive security presence that was tightened following a major riot in Urumqi two years ago in which at least 197 people were killed.

Beijing blames the violence on militants based overseas, specifically ones from the East Turkistan Islamic Movement who it says trained in militant camps in Pakistan, lawless parts of which are known to harbor elements of the Taliban and other extremist groups.

No group has claimed responsibility and Beijing has provided no direct evidence to back its claims.