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Chinese soldier shot dead outside camp in Chongqing

Chinese officials say they are investigating the attack as possible terrorism.

March 21, 2009|Barbara Demick

BEIJING — A soldier on guard duty outside an army camp in central China was shot to death and another soldier wounded in a bold attack that Chinese authorities say is being investigated as a possible act of terrorism.

The shooting Thursday night was especially shocking for Chinese officials because it took place in downtown Chongqing, a city of 5 million. After killing the soldier, identified in the official Chinese press as 18-year-old Han Junliang, the assailants also stole his submachine gun.

Chongqing residents said Friday that the city was under heavy security as police searched for the assailants. Roadblocks were set up around downtown.

"They are searching all over the city. They are inspecting cars, especially taxis. People are in a big panic," said Chen Jun, a taxi driver interviewed by telephone. He said rumors had been circulating for days before the attack that suicide bombers had infiltrated the city.

Several newspapers reported that the attackers were Tibetan, which if true would be highly unusual. Chinese propaganda frequently depicts Tibetans as terrorists and authorities here are often quick to ascribe political motives to bombings and shootings that human rights advocates say were ordinary criminal acts.

Private ownership of guns in China is illegal, but authorities have acknowledged the increasing problem of heavily armed street gangs.

The last attacks of this type occurred in August before the start of the Beijing Olympics when assailants in far western China rammed a truck and threw grenades into a group of policemen jogging outside their station. That attack was blamed on ethnic Uighur separatists and took place in Xin- jiang province, where such violence is more common.

China has been on high alert in recent weeks because of a series of sensitive anniversaries. This month saw the 50th anniversary of the flight of Tibet's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, into exile -- as well as the one-year anniversary of violent riots by Tibetans in various parts of China.

This year is also the 60th anniversary of the founding of Communist China and the 20th anniversary of the crackdown on student protests at Tiananmen Square.

The official newspaper of the People's Armed Police reported Wednesday that a suitcase packed with explosives had been found at the railroad station in Lhasa, the Tibetan provincial capital.

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barbara.demick@latimes.com

Eliot Gao of The Times' Beijing Bureau contributed to this report.

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