China - China sacked the top official of the strife-torn city of Urumqi as well as the regional police chief on Saturday, as the town crept back to calm after days of sometimes deadly protests that inflamed ethnic enmity.

The official Xinhua news agency did not explain why the city's Communist Party Secretary, Li Zhi, was replaced by Zhu Hailun, head of Xinjiang region's law-and-order committee.

But Li presided over the city during deadly unrest on July 5 when a protest by Muslim Uighurs, who call Xinjiang their homeland, gave way to deadly rioting that left 197 people dead, most of them members of China's majority Han ethnic group.

Urumqi has been put under heavy security again this week after three days of fresh unrest, as thousands of Han Chinese residents protested over a rash of reported syringe stabbings they blamed on Uighurs, a distinct minority in the city.

Officials said five people died in protests on Thursday. Xinjiang police chief Liu Yaohua was replaced by Zhu Changjie, party chief of Xinjiang's Aksu Prefecture.

The sackings could feed more speculation about the future of Wang Lequan, the regional Communist Party boss, who has barely appeared in state media in the past couple of days, after he pleaded from a balcony with Han crowds demanding his ouster.

They should replace Wang Lequan ... Of course this will not be totally fair, but we wish to have a secure environment, said one resident, who did not wish to give his name.

Troops used tear gas to break up a group of people, apparently Han Chinese, gathered near city government offices in Urumqi on Saturday, footage from Cable TV of Hong Kong showed.

But shops, buses and roads also began to come back to life on Saturday, watched over by thousands of police and anti-riot troops. Many were posted at entrances to Uighur neighborhoods.

The spasm of unrest has alarmed the central government, coming less than a month before China marks the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic on October 1.


The minister of public security, Meng Jianzhu, flew to Urumqi to oversee security.

The needle-stabbing attacks of recent days were a continuation of the July 5 incident, Meng said, according to the official People's Daily on Saturday. Their goal is to wreck ethnic unity and create splits in the motherland.

Three Uighur men and one woman were indicted on charges of endangering public security connected with the spate of stabbings, city procurator Udgar Abdulrahman said on Saturday.

More than 500 people have registered as having been stabbed, but just over 100 had detectable pricks, redness, or other physical signs, military doctors told reporters. Of those, 22 were being monitored for signs of infection.

At least 197 people, most of them Han Chinese, died in Urumqi in the July 5 Uighur protests that China called a separatist attack. Han residents have voiced anger that Uighurs accused of rioting have yet to be tried.
Xinjiang's population of 21 million is divided mainly between Uighurs, long the region's majority, and Han Chinese, many of whom arrived in recent decades. Uighurs complain Han get the best jobs. Most Urumqi residents are Han Chinese.

Uighur residents spoke of harassment.

Look at how the security forces are allowing the Chinese to protest. If a Uighur does anything at all, any Chinese citizen can call the police, said a Uighur man, Ali, adding that he had been detained for 48 hours in late July.

(Additional reporting by Royston Chan in Urumqi and Chris Buckley in Beijing; Writing by Chris Buckley; Editing by Jon Hemming)