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China Beefs Up Security After Bus Blast

Asia: Reports of casualties vary, with up to 2 killed and 30 hurt in Muslim district of capital.

March 08, 1997|RONE TEMPEST | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BEIJING — Hours after an explosion rocked a busy shopping district here Friday, police beefed up security in an area of the capital populated by a predominantly Muslim minority from China's rebellious far west.

Quoting sources, the Reuters news agency reported that a bomb exploded on a public bus during rush hour in Beijing's western Xidan district, killing at least two people and injuring 30. But a later report, in the official Beijing Daily, said that no one died in the blast and that 10 people were injured. Except for a few shards of broken glass and a shattered street sign, there was little evidence of an explosion when reporters visited the area Friday night.

Beijing police, unaccustomed to dealing with acts of terrorism in the normally quiet capital, would not comment on the incident.

But by late Friday night, several police vans had been stationed at one end of a western Beijing avenue that is a gathering point for Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim ethnic Turkic minority from the vast Xinjiang region of western China. By this morning, police were stationed at many bus stops on the city's main streets.

In recent weeks, Xinjiang has been the site of several terrorist attacks by separatists seeking a Muslim homeland in the mineral-rich territory bordering Kazakhstan and other states of Central Asia.

In the most recent incident, on Feb. 25, as many as nine people were believed killed and 74 injured by three bombs placed on buses in the regional capital, Urumqi.

Uighur separatists based in Kazakhstan claimed credit for the coordinated bomb attacks, which occurred on the day of a national memorial service in Beijing for China's "paramount leader," Deng Xiaoping, who died last month at age 92. Historically, periods of political transition have been marked by unrest in China's far west, where Uighurs and other ethnic minorities claim that they are victims of persecution by the country's majority Han population.

Before the Friday incident, Beijing was already under heightened security because of the annual meeting of the National People's Congress, China's supreme legislative body, which is in session at the Great Hall of the People.

Emergency room workers at Jishui Tan Hospital told Associated Press that many of the people injured Friday suffered severe burns.

Witnesses interviewed at the hospital said the explosion happened when the No. 22 bus opened its door after pulling up at a stop on North Xidan Avenue. But a security guard at one of the avenue's shopping malls said the blast occurred as the bus pulled away from the stop.

Police closed off the street and ordered foreign reporters to leave the area.

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