URUMQI: Urumqi residents on Friday confronted armed police during protests against more hypodermic syringe attacks as city officials said five people had died in Thursday's protests.
Meanwhile, 14 others were injured and hospitalized in the massive protests on Thursday against the syringe attacks, the city's executive deputy mayor Zhang Hong said on Friday.
Among the five dead, two had been confirmed as innocent civilians, while police are trying to identify the rest, Zhang said.
Zhang said investigation had showed that the syringe attackers were from the Uygur ethnic group while those who were attacked included people of Han and other ethnic groups. He also said no one died on Friday.
More than 1,000 protesters faced policemen who blocked them from entering Nanhu Square in the center of the city around 1:40 pm on Friday.
Witnesses said two members of the Uygur ethnic minority were caught attacking people with syringes near a Carrefour supermarket on Friday and the victims sought revenge.
But policemen sequestered the two suspects, which triggered angry responses from the public. That prompted the police to fire tear-gas shells to disperse the crowd.
Officials have appealed to people to keep away from the streets and not to repeat Thursday's incidents.
Another group of more than 100 youths marched on Jiefangnan Road around the city's bustling commercial area around 2:30 pm.
About 100 armed policemen with shields moved along with the protesters.
All shops, banks and commercial facilities along the street were closed.
A number of other smaller confrontations were reported as helicopters hovered over the city for the second time since the July 5 riots that left 197 people dead.
Restoring social order
China's Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu reached Urumqi on Friday to direct the work of defusing the unrest.
Meng urged the local governments and the committees of the Communist Party of China at all levels "to restore social order as soon as possible".
"Maintaining stability is the central task of overriding importance in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region at the present time," he said at a meeting with local officials upon his arrival.
Meng warned that "those who were involved in the violence of beating, smashing, looting and burning, and those who broke social orders with different means or who undermine ethnic unity, shall be punished according to the law without exception, whatever his ethnicity is".
The municipal government said it had issued an order banning unlicensed marches, demonstrations and mass protests.
Police officers said 531 victims of syringe stabbings had been admitted to 24 hospitals. The victims include members of Han, Uygur and Kazak ethnic groups.
A tight security net has been thrown around the Xinjiang International Exhibition Center, the venue of the ongoing 18th Urumqi Trade Fair.