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A Uighur policeman on a backstreet in Urumqi

Yesterday the People’s Daily reported that there had been an explosion in Aksu in southwest Xinjiang. Seven people were killed and 14 injured when a Uighur man drove a three-wheeled vehicle into a crowd and detonated explosives. This is the first major act of violence in the region since the Urumqi riots in July 2009, which led to more than 200 deaths. Security in Xinjiang has been tight ever since, with greater numbers of troops and police on the streets of most major cities in the region, increased video surveillance, a total internet blockage that was only lifted in May, and a succession of arrests of people accused of fostering ‘separatism’. A government spokesperson said that the explosion was definitely ‘an intentional act because the suspect was carrying explosive devices’. She said the case was being treated as a criminal investigation but it was too early to say whether it was an act of terrorism. There has as yet been no suggestion that this recent explosion is in any way connected with the arrests of six suspected bombmakers in Aksu last September.

However, it may be significant that the Uighur victims were ‘working with local security officers to patrol the streets and report crimes’, according to an unnamed police official. Since the Urumqi riots there has been a strong drive to recruit Uighurs into the security forces, with the result that there are now increased numbers of Uighur police on the streets of Urumqi and other cities. This may look like a more sensitive approach to policing, but it has led some Uighurs to accuse the government of trying to divide them. Though the targets of the Aksu explosion appear to have been civilians, relations between Han and Uighur have worsened so much since last July that any collaboration with the authorities may now be interpreted as an act of betrayal.

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