July 17, 2009

China blast: terrorism ruled out says official

An oil tank explosion at a chemical plant in China's restive Urumqi city was not due to terrorism, the factory's vice manager has said, one week after ethnic unrest left more than 180 people dead.

Chinese soldiers patrol Kashgar in China's farwest Xinjiang region

"We have ruled out terrorism," Liu Jiyuan said at the factory, which belongs to China National Petroleum Corporation, the nation's biggest energy producer.

The company said there were no casualties in the blast, which occurred in the northeast of Urumqi, the capital of China's northwest Xinjiang region.

"According to preliminary investigations, no one was hurt or killed at the scene, and human causes have been ruled out," a statement issued by the factory said.

Smoke was seen Sunday morning coming out of a light oil storage tank at the plant, and firefighters extinguished the blaze 40 minutes later, according to the statement.

The company was investigating the exact reason for the blast, it said, which comes at a sensitive time in Urumqi, one week after unrest between Muslim Uighurs and Han Chinese left 184 people dead and over 1,000 injured.

Members of the Uighur minority took to the streets and attacked Han Chinese last Sunday, according to victims and witnesses AFP spoke with here.

However exiled Uighur leaders insist Uighur protests were peaceful until security forces over-reacted with deadly force, and that further deaths have occurred following Sunday's unrest.

Thousands of Han Chinese early in the week then took to the streets of Urumqi wielding knives, poles, meat cleavers and other makeshift weapons, vowing vengeance against the Uighurs.

The mobs attacked some Uighurs, but the extent of the violence appeared not nearly as great as on July 5, with a massive security presence separating Han from Uighur.

Xinjiang's eight million Uighurs make up nearly half the population of the region, and have long complained of repression and discrimination under Chinese rule.

But Beijing insists its rule in Xinjiang is fair, and that it has brought economic prosperity to the region.


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