Explosion at China railway station: Uighur extremists?

An explosion at a railway station Wednesday occurred as President Xi was finishing a four-day visit to the region in which he stressed ethnic unity and getting tough on terrorism. Chinese officials have not released information on casualties – or the cause.

By , Reuters

An explosion hit a railway station in the capital of China's far western region of Xinjiang on Wednesday injuring some people, in what is likely to be seen as an embarrassing security lapse for the government.

The blast happened at Urumqi's south railway station, a government spokesman, and came just as President Xi Jinping was wrapping up a tour of Xinjiang in which he spoke of plans to get tough on fighting terrorism.

The People's Daily said on its official microblog that some people had been injured and taken to hospital. The government and state media did not give a cause for the blast.

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Xinjiang, resource-rich and strategically located on the borders of central Asia, has been beset by violence for years, blamed by the government on Islamist militants and separatists.

Exiles and many rights groups say the real cause of the unrest is China's heavy-handed policies, including curbs on Islam and the culture and language of the Muslim Uighur people who call Xinjiang home.

Xinjiang government spokesman Luo Fuyong said authorities were still assessing casualty figures and the cause of the blast. He would not speculate on whether it was a militant attack.

"The situation has been bought well under control," he told Reuters by telephone. "The wounded are receiving medical attention ... Public security forces are on the scene dealing with it."

"We are deeply concerned by what has happened," Luo added.

Unrest in Xinjiang has led to the deaths of more than 100 people in the past year, prompting a tougher stance against Turkic-language speaking Uighurs, many of whom chafe at government controls on their culture and religion.

BLOOD AND DEBRIS

Pictures on China's Twitter-like Weibo service, which Reuters could not independently verify, showed blood on suitcases and debris on the ground in front of the station.

Another picture showed what appeared to be a small blast area near a police post, though it was unclear if there were any casualties in the photograph.

Many of posts carrying these pictures were quickly removed by censors, as often happens in stability-obsessed China.

Xinhua said the blast was centered around luggage left on the ground between an exit and a bus stop. The station re-opened at 9 pm (1300GMT), some two hours after the blast, under a heavy police presence, it added.

It was not clear if President Xi was still in Xinjiang at the time of the blast at the end of his four-day visit to the region in which he stressed ethnic unity and tough policing.

"The long-term stability of Xinjiang is vital to the whole country's reform, development and stability; to the country's unity, ethnic harmony and national security as well as to the great revival of the Chinese nation," Xinhua quoted Xi as saying during his visit, in a report on Wednesday.

China's nervousness about militancy, especially Islamic extremism, has grown since a car burst into flames on the edge of Beijing's Tiananmen Square in October, and 29 people were stabbed to death last month in the southwestern city of Kunming.

The government said Xinjiang militants were responsible for both incidents.

Uighurs have traditionally followed a moderate form of Islam but many have begun adopting practices more commonly seen in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, such as full-face veils for women, as China has intensified a security crackdown in recent years. (Editing by Robert Birsel)

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