China to send ‘harmony makers’ to Urumqi

Chinese troops march in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region, on September 5.
China is sending 7,000 officials to the western city of Urumqi after last week’s deadly protests over a strange series of syringe stabbings, state-run media reported.

The officials, known as “harmony makers,” are meant to ease tensions after demonstrators, demanding better police protection, clashed with police for two days. The unrest left five people dead and 14 injured. “The officials will go door to door to explain policies and solve disputes,” said Wang Lequan, secretary of Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Regional Committee of the Communist Party of China, according to the Xinhua news agency. Minority Uyghurs are accused of stabbing majority Han Chinese with syringes. The syringe attacks started August 17, a month after long-simmering resentment between the Uyghurs and the Han Chinese erupted into riots and killed more than 200 people. By Thursday, hospitals in the area had dealt with 531 suspected victims of syringe stabbings, 106 of whom showed obvious signs of needle attacks, state media said.

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Police received an additional 77 reports of attacks between Sunday and Monday evenings. But the report by Xinhua did not specify whether they were new attacks or ones that had just been brought to the attention of officials. Authorities said they had detained 45 suspects in connection with the attacks, 12 of whom were taken into custody.

The punishment for the attacks will be harsh: life imprisonment in some cases; the death penalty in others, government officials said. The Han Chinese are the country’s dominant ethnic group. The Uyghurs are a Turkic-speaking Muslim minority who consider Xinjiang their homeland.