Beijing hushed on university bombings

A dining hall at Tsinghua University in Beijing reopened Thursday after a small bomb went off there and another exploded at a crowded Beijing University cafeteria during lunch hours Tuesday, injuring nine. Most students at China's most elite universities, however, took their meals back to their dorms Thursday - amid heavy speculation about who conducted what most students called a terrorist act.

News of the highly unusual bombings has been hushed in the Chinese media - with authorities evidently unwilling to raise a shocking incident one week ahead of the annual People's Congress. Thursday, state media, and even semiofficial websites and chat rooms, contained no stories or discussion on the bombings., the most popular site among China's Internet users, ran a lead story the day of the incident, but the subject disappeared the next day. No information is available about the condition or identity of the students taken to the hospital.

In coming days, Hu Jintao is expected to replace Jiang Zemin as president of the state. In November, Mr. Hu took over from Mr. Jiang as head of the Communist Party - part of a major transition to a more youthful "fourth generation" of leaders. Many of those leaders, and most of the top echelon of officials, were educated either at Tsinghua or Beijing University.

A food-service employee at Tsinghua said Thursday that police had discovered the battery used to set off a crude bomb and the shop it was sold at. The bomb was constructed using charcoal gunpowder and an iron elbow-shaped pipe. Cooks at the hall were interviewed by police, about what one called "a deafening sound" - a bomb left in a leather case under a table next to a stainless steel counter.

On campus, police checked IDs, and students took the bombings with a mixture of intense whispering and resignation. No one has been apprehended, and few people expect any group to take credit.

"I think this is the kind of trouble that will bring more trouble," said one a recent graduate at Tsinghua, visiting his friends here. "I think this is just the start."

Some students and bystanders mentioned China's western ethnic Uigher group as a potential culprit. The East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a Uigher organization, was placed on the US State Department terrorism list last August, amid controversy by some diplomats and experts who say the decision was based on Chinese intelligence reports. No evidence so far points to the Uighers in the campus bombings, however, and one Uigher organization has denied involvement.

One taxi driver, part of an always fearlessly verbal class of Beijingers, opined that the incident is caused by someone who was "fed up" with poverty. "Look, this society is so unfair. Laid-off workers and farmers live so hard, but corruptive officials and riches are so rich. "

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