09/10/2009, 00.00
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Authorities trying to restore confidence among Han and Uyghurs, but tourism in Xinjiang plummets

Tensions are made worse by widespread mistrust towards the authorities, accused of not telling the truth. Only massive troop deployment is keeping a lid on the situation. Despite official claims that everything is going well, local hotels are empty.
Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The Chinese government is trying to rebuild confidence in the population after its long silence with regards to allegations that more than 500 people were attacked with needles and syringes in Xinjiang’s capital of Urumqi. The authorities have tried to reassure the public that it is conducting a thorough investigation into the incidents. State-owned Xinhua news agency published photos it said showed victims of needle stabbings. In its reports the agency noted that no one got sick or was infected in these attacks and that only a few patients were still in hospital for observation.

A Hong Kong-based TV station aired video footage yesterday of a young Uyghur man, apparently being taken away by two policemen (pictured) after he allegedly stabbed someone with a needle. Used syringes were also found in his flat, but it is not clear if they were there because he was a drug addict and in need of them.

Whatever the case may be the authorities are hard pressed to allay public fears after doing nothing for weeks.

Fear has swept through Urumqi, a city of some 2.3 million, especially among Han Chinese who demonstrated in the tens of thousands last week.

The fact that most of the people who were attacked were ethnic Chinese revived tensions with Xinjiang’s indigenous population, the Uyghurs, who are now in the minority.

After protests last July left about 200 people dead, the authorities imposed tighter controls and deployed large number of police across the city. Internet access and phone text messages were also blocked and are still so after two months.

Han Chinese are very worried because the authorities failed to adequately inform them of the situation and tell them what they are actually doing. Back in July thousands of people were arrested, but no information about the inquiries into the protests have been reported in the media.

One effect of the situation is clear however. Located on the ancient Silk Road, Xinjiang is heavily dependent on tourism and as a result of the violence, tourism has plummeted.

Thousands of tour groups cancelled trips to the region and the number of visitors to its main tourist sites fell from several thousand a day to just a few hundred, Xinhua reported. Hotels that were once packed now fill barely 10 per cent of their rooms.

This has forced the regional government to allocate 5 million yuan to travel agencies to help them pull through these tough times.

However, the step contradicts claims by regional tourism bureau director Inamu Nisteen who said last week that tourism was on the rebound and that Xinjiang was welcoming 3,000 to 6,000 visitors a day.

This week’s news could not come at a worse time for the authorities who have been trying to rebuild credibility.

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See also
Operation for reusing medical equipment discovered in Gujarat
Xinjiang, police open fire on crowd: 27 victims
Xinjiang like Tibet: more money and police controls
Five more Uyghurs sentenced to death in Xinjiang
Rebiya Kadeer says 10,000 people disappeared in one night in Urumqi, complains about US silence


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