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Page last updated at 06:32 GMT, Saturday, 12 September 2009 07:32 UK

Chinese syringe attackers jailed

Protesters and police in central Urumqi - 3 September 2009
Thousands protested in Urumqi over the needle attacks

A court in China's Xinjiang region has sentenced three people to up to 15 years in jail in the first trials over a recent series of syringe attacks.

The court did not give the defendants' ethnicity but their names suggest they are from the Muslim Uighur minority.

The syringe attacks have raised tension in a long-standing conflict between the Uighur and Han communities.

Xinjiang saw ethnic riots in July and thousands have protested in Urumqi, the main city, over the syringe attacks.

Robbery

The authorities in Xinjiang were this week said to be holding 12 suspects in relation to the attacks.

Map

The BBC's Chris Hogg in Shanghai says local people have been calling on the authorities to take swift legal action to help to restore calm in the region.

The defendant who was given the longest sentence by the Intermediate Court of Urumqi was named as Yilipan Yilihamu.

The 19-year-old was jailed for 15 years for stabbing a woman in the buttock at a fruit stall, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Muhutaerjiang Turdi, 34, and a 22-year-old woman, Aimannisha Guli, were given sentences of 10 and seven years respectively.

They were convicted of threatening a taxi driver with a syringe and stealing 710 yuan ($103) from him.

The Chinese government has been struggling to restore calm in Xinjiang since the July riots, the worst ethnic unrest in the country 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.

The tension has been exacerbated by the syringe attacks, although their scale and seriousness remains unclear.

Urumqi health and police authorities say more than 500 people had been stabbed by hypodermic syringes in Urumqi, with about 170 of the victims showing obvious signs of the attacks.

None of the victims have suffered poisoning or other effects.

Du Xintao, an official with the regional public security department, said the syringe incidents were "terror attacks" trying to "scare residents and create further unrest".



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