The wounded lie on the street after the bomb blasts at a market in Urumqi, China, on Thursday. (AFP)
Urumqi (China), May 22 (Reuters): Explosives hurled from two vehicles which ploughed into an open market in China’s troubled Xinjiang region killed 31 people today, state media reported, the deadliest act of violence in the region in years.
China called the attack in the regional capital of Urumqi a “serious violent terrorist incident” and domestic security chief Meng Jianzhu vowed to strengthen a crackdown on the “arrogance of terrorists”. Ninety-four people were wounded.
China has blamed a series of knife and bomb attacks in recent months on separatist militants from Xinjiang, the traditional home of the ethnic Uighurs.
The cross-country vehicles rammed into shoppers in an open market, Xinhua news agency reported, citing witness reports. Explosives were flung out of the windows, and one of the vehicles exploded.
At the rain-soaked scene of the attack late in the evening, surrounded by police vans, elite police units guarded a cordoned-off candlelight display for victims.
Police kept away onlookers trying to take photographs and blocked foreign reporters from approaching the area.
One witness told Reuters he saw the aftermath of the blasts on his way to work. “The air was full of the smell of gunpowder and the sound of sobbing,” he said. “There were simply too many (casualties), old folks who were at the morning market.”
A business owner told Xinhua he had heard a dozen loud explosions at the market near Renmin Park in downtown Urumqi.
Xinjiang has been plagued by violence for years, but rights activists and exile groups say the government’s own heavy handed policies in the region have sowed the seeds of unrest.
Photos posted on social media purportedly of the blast, but not verified by Reuters, showed a column of smoke and chaos at the market, with bloodied people lying on the tree-lined road near small stands selling fruit, vegetables and eggs.
“There were two vehicles that drove like crazy towards the morning market,” another witness who declined to give his name told Reuters by telephone. “The market was total chaos.”
Other photos showed riot police on the scene and bodies lying amid flames. Produce and debris were scattered across the street. Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled World Uighur Congress, said in an e-mail to Reuters that while he was unsure who carried out the attack, he believed Beijing’s policies in the region should be examined.
“The volatility of the situation and Beijing’s repressive policies in the area have a direct relationship to this,” Raxit said. “I urge Beijing not to use this incident as an excuse to expand repressive policies, and instead to adjust policies to ameliorate a deteriorating situation.”