URUMQI: Crowds gathered at a number of sites in downtown Urumqi Thursday to protest against hypodermic syringe attacks in the capital city of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region and demanded security guarantees from the authorities.
The protest, attended by tens of thousands of people, crippled the city traffic and forced shops in major commercial streets to close down.
Wang Lequan, secretary of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Regional Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC), and Li Zhi, secretary of the CPC Urumqi City Committee, called on the crowds, on two separate occasions, to stay calm and show restraint.
Wang and five representatives of the public held talks in the office building of the regional committee in the afternoon, but no details were available.
Police said Thursday's protest started at 10:50 am when more than 1,000 people gathered at the residential quarter of Xiaoximen, a business street. Another crowd of protestors gathered at the Beiyuanchun farmers' produce wholesale market at 10:30 when a man was caught after allegedly stabbing a five-year-old girl.
The demonstration spread to major streets including Guangming Road, Xinmin Road and Youhao Road. People also turned out in big crowds in front of the Renmin Cinema and at the Renmin Square.
Protestors held the national flag and the flag of the Communist Party of China and shouted "Severely punish the mob." Members of the Uygur ethnic minority were also among the protesting crowds.
Protestors moved to the Xinjiang International Exhibition Center where the ongoing 18th Urumqi Trade Fair is being held. Working staff at the center were removed.
Stabbing attacks occurred during the protests and an attacker was caught at the scene. The police stopped the crowd who were about to beat her.
The attacks come less than two months after the "July 5" riot when 197 people, mostly Han Chinese, were killed, and 1,600 others injured.
Police said that attacks with syringes against innocent people have been carried out in Urumqi since August 17. Parents are worried that the safety of their children is in danger as the Fall semester has started.
Zhu Hailun, head of the political and legal affairs commission of the CPC committee in Xinjiang, said members of nine ethnic groups including the Han, Uygur, Hui, Kazak and Mongolian had reported stabbing incidents to the police in recent days.
Local police had seized 21 suspects, among whom six had been under police custody and four arrested for criminal prosecution, said the regional information office in mobile phone text messages to the public.
It also said that the court would hand down severe punishment to the criminals according to the law.