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Tiananmen 'attack' embarrasses China's security regime
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Oct 30, 2013

Here is a chronology of key events related to the restive region since 2009:


June 25 - A huge brawl erupts in the city of Shaoguan in southern China's Guangdong province between Uighur and ethnic Han factory workers. Two Uighurs are reported killed and dozens injured.

July 5 - Uighurs gather in Urumqi to protest over the Shaoguan incident but violence erupts after security forces move in. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Uighurs riot.

July 6 - Chinese security forces begin to pour into Urumqi and fan out across Xinjiang. The Xinjiang government blames exiled Uighur dissident Rebiya Kadeer for orchestrating the unrest. Kadeer, other Uighur exiles and Uighurs in Urumqi blame Chinese authorities for provoking violence.

July 7 - The government says nearly 200 died in the unrest, with more than 1,600 injured and hundreds arrested.

September 2 - Han residents take to Urumqi's streets for several days of protests calling for a crackdown over a wave of syringe stabbings. The government eventually says nearly 500 were stabbed. Beijing blames "ethnic separatist forces". At least 75 are later reported arrested for the attacks.


June 24 - Police say they busted a Xinjiang "terrorist" ring behind a string of deadly attacks in the region, arresting at least 10 people.


July 18 - Police kill 20 protesters in clashes in south Xinjiang's Hotan city, exiled Uighur groups say. State press say police fired on demonstrators after they attacked a police station, killing one officer.

July 31-August 1 - Two attacks by alleged terrorists leave 13 people dead in a Han Chinese section of Xinjiang's Kashgar city, while police kill eight suspected Uighur separatists. State press reports the suspects were trained in terrorist cells in neighbouring Pakistan.

September 15 - Courts in Xinjiang sentence to death four Uighurs convicted of involvement in the July 18 and July 30-31 incidents.


February 28 - Rioters armed with knives kill at least 10 people in Yecheng town in the Kashgar region, while police shoot two of the attackers dead, state press says. One man is later sentenced to death.

May 20 - Police detain a 12-year-old boy in Korla city after a raid on an illegal Islamic school. Overseas activists later accuse police of beating the boy to death. Police say the death was related to a beating received at the school.

June 29 - Six Uighur men try to hijack a plane that had taken off from Hotan and are thwarted by passengers and crew. Two of the men die in the struggle, and 24 crew members and passengers are injured. In December, a court sentences three of the remaining men to death, and a fourth is given a life prison term.


April 23 - Gunfights break out in Bachu county, leaving 15 police and community workers and six "terrorists" dead. Two men are later sentenced to death over the unrest.

June 26 - At least 35 people are killed when, according to Xinhua news agency, "knife-wielding mobs" attack police stations and other sites in Turpan city's Lukqun township before security personnel arrive and open fire. Three people are later sentenced to death.

August 20 - A Chinese policeman is killed in an incident at the edge of a desert area in Yilkiqi described by state media as an "anti-terrorism" operation. Overseas media report, however, that 22 Uighurs are shot dead in the confrontation, which they label a raid.

October 28 - A sport utility vehicle knocks over pedestrians and bursts into flames near Beijing's Tiananmen Square, killing two tourists and injuring another 40 people. Three people inside the vehicle also die. Police alert hotels to look out for eight suspects from Xinjiang.

October 30 - Police identify the incident as a "terrorist attack" and announce the capture of five suspects. Names of the dead in the vehicle as well as the suspects appeared to be Uighur.

A "terrorist attack" in Beijing's Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of the Chinese state, represents an embarrassing failure for the nation's vast police and intelligence apparatus and shows it cannot plug all security vulnerabilities, analysts say.

Communist China spends vast sums on ensuring order among a population of 1.35 billion people, more even than on its military, the world's largest.

Tiananmen, in the middle of the sprawling Chinese capital, has long been a magnet for protests both large and small, including the huge pro-democracy demonstrations of 1989 that challenged Communist Party rule.

The square is permanently under heavy security with uniformed and plainclothes police constantly on the lookout for any sign of trouble, though the spectre of a terrorist attack in the centre of Beijing raises the stakes significantly.

"Clearly the party will be horrified", David Tobin, a University of Glasgow expert on Chinese politics, told AFP. "This is a highly policed region. You wouldn't think that something like this would happen here. So this will make the party nervous."

The three people in the car which crashed on Monday, all of whom died, were from the same family, Beijing police said Wednesday, and another five people had been arrested.

It was a "carefully planned, organised and premeditated violent terrorist attack", they added -- the first time authorities have admitted to such a strike taking place in the capital.

The names released for the dead and the apprehended suspects appear to belong to members of China's mainly Muslim Uighur minority, though police and media refrained from explicitly stating their ethnicity.

The car was licensed in China's far western region of Xinjiang, home to most of China's Uighurs, many of whom say they are victims of discrimination and ethnic profiling by the state, and the scene of periodic unrest.

Willy Lam, a China expert at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that as well as the fact security measures were proven ineffective, the deadly nature of the incident in which at least one foreigner died compounded the embarrassment.

"It's a big loss of face for the authorities," he said, noting that the crash came ahead of a key Communist Party meeting set for next month in Beijing.

Attack could embolden others

China's declared domestic security budget across all levels of government is 769 billion yuan ($126 billion) this year, more than the country officially plans to spend on its armed forces, and an increase of more than 200 billion yuan since 2010.

"If the Chinese MPS (Ministry of Public Security) cannot secure Tiananmen, it shows that China, as a whole, is insecure, inviting more challenges," Kam C. Wong, a former Hong Kong police official who teaches criminal justice at Xavier University in the United States, wrote in an email.

The exact motivation for the mayhem in which a sport utility vehicle left the major transport artery that runs in front of the Forbidden City -- a former imperial palace -- and rammed into a crowd of tourists and police, killing at least two visitors and injuring dozens, remains murky.

Experts have cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the nature of the incident given the government's virtual monopoly on what information is released.

"It's the fact that it occurred in Tiananmen Square that immediately gives rise to suspicion of something of a political nature," said John Delury, an expert on modern Chinese politics at Yonsei University in Seoul.

But given that Xinjiang has been a hotbed of tensions in recent years -- about 200 people died in riots in its capital Urumqi in 2009 -- the region also cannot be discounted as a source of violence.

"I think the fact that it could take place in Beijing shows that there are limits as to what the police can do if there is a high degree of resistance against China's fundamental policy towards the Uighurs," Lam said.

"There is no police regime in the world which is effective if there is massive resistance from one sector of the people."

Tobin, who focuses on identity politics in Xinjiang and says the issue can only be understood as a problem that has existed for more than two centuries, pointed out that the crash appeared unsophisticated and was unlikely to suggest any transnational terror links.

"From looking at what happened it certainly doesn't look like the type of incident we see across the Middle East with sophisticated technology, lots of coordination," he said.

"It seems quite crude, driving a jeep into people and then setting liquid on fire to make the jeep go alight, so there doesn't seem to be any evidence of a sort of global network of terrorism there. It could be disgruntled individuals."

The conflagration at Tiananmen will likely lead to intensified security measures against Uighurs in both Beijing and the far west, analysts said. A Uighur rights group has already expressed fears of a crackdown.

But Wong warned that control regimes, no matter how good, will always be vulnerable in the face of suicide attackers.

"Simply, people cannot be deterred if they are not afraid to die," he said.


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Xinjiang 'suspects' named after Tiananmen crash: media
Beijing (AFP) Oct 29, 2013
Chinese police have named two suspects from the restive Xinjiang region after a car crash on Beijing's Tiananmen Square killed five people, state-run media said Tuesday, as analysts said the incident looked like a premeditated attack. The crash - in which a sport utility vehicle drove along the pavement, ploughed into crowds and caught fire at the capital's best-known and most sensitive sit ... read more

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