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Page last updated at 04:51 GMT, Friday, 11 September 2009 05:51 UK

Nine held over Xinjiang syringes

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Nine suspects have been arrested for the recent syringe attacks in Xinjiang, China's official news agency, Xinhua, and the China Daily have reported.

The attacks have panicked communities already tense due to conflict between the Han and Uighur ethnic communities.

Last week, tens of thousands of people rallied in the Xinjiang capital, Urumqi demanding action to end the attacks.

The Chinese government has been struggling to restore calm to Xinjiang since major riots in July.

The beating of Hong Kong journalists covering recent events in Xinjiang has also sparked conflict with the former British colony, now a special autonomous zone in China.

Officials in Hong Kong have said they cannot do much to protect Hong Kong people in China, but politicians and press freedom watchdogs plan a Sunday march to defend against Chinese state controls.

Mystery

The latest arrests follow reports earlier in the week that the authorities had identified 45 suspects behind the attacks - it is unclear how many of these are actually in detention or face formal charges.

The source and scale of the recent attacks by hypodermic needle also remain unclear - so far none of the reported victims of the attacks have suffered poisoning or other effects.

The syringe attacks have provoked more panic than actual injuries, according to reports from hospitals where people have appeared claiming attacks but carrying no sign of injury.

Protesters and police in central Urumqi - 3 September 2009
Police moved to contain the protesters in Urumqi on Thursday

Police are offering a 5,000 yuan ($735) reward for information about the attacks, Hotan police said. The nine suspects were caught in the Hotan, Altay and Kashgar districts.

Of nine reported attacks in Hotan, three were actually pricked, while in Altay, four of five reported attacks were false alarms and in Kashgar, three of five were false alarms, the China Daily said, citing local officials.

The attacks, which have targeted innocent people, are believed to have been orchestrated in a bid to scare residents and create further unrest, said Du Xintao, an official with the regional public security department.

"The attacks are terror attacks," Mr Du said, in remarks quoted by the China Daily.

Ethnic tension

By last Friday, Urumqi health and police authorities had confirmed 531 people had been stabbed by hypodermic syringes in the city, 171 of the victims showed obvious signs of the attacks, the paper said.

The majority of the victims were from the Han ethnic group. Others were from ethnic groups including Uygur, Hui and Kazak.

The tension between Xinjiang's Uighur and Han communities has been simmering for many years, but the ethnic unrest in July was the worst in China for decades.

The violence began on 5 July when an initially peaceful protest by Uighur youths, apparently prompted by an earlier riot in a factory in southern China, spiralled out of control - with shops and vehicles burned and passers-by attacked.

About 80 people have been charged over the violence but no date has been set for their trial.



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