- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

From combined dispatches
BEIJING China said this week that a spate of recent bombings that killed seven persons around the country were isolated criminal incidents, insisting that the nation's security situation was not deteriorating.
Investigations were continuing into the explosion Saturday night that killed two and injured 27 at a McDonald's restaurant in Xian, the capital of north China's Shaanxi province, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Zhang Qiyue said.
But so far, police consider it and another 23 blasts over a three-day period last week to be unconnected criminal incidents, she said.
The blast in Xian, one of China's most popular tourist cities, followed Friday's near-simultaneous detonation of 22 bombs in two cities in the southern province of Guangdong, in an apparent grudge attack that killed five persons and injured seven.
On Sunday, another bomb went off at the home of a local official in Guiguang city, in Guangxi province, also in the country's south.
"This explosion and the others were all isolated criminal cases," Miss Zhang told reporters. "These incidents by no means show that the general security situation in China is degrading."
She refused to comment on why Beijing police had stepped up security in the capital's diplomatic quarter this week, but insisted China enjoyed social stability.
Meanwhile in Taipei, a radical pro-independence party denounced the Taiwan government for bowing to pressure from Beijing by denying an entry visa to an exiled Chinese Muslim leader.
The Taiwan Independence Party (TIP) had invited Dilixat Raxit, spokesman for the East Turkestan Information Center, a group of exiled Uighur Muslims from China's northwestern Xinjiang province, to visit the island, a TIP spokesman said. But the Democratic Progressive Party government, considered pro-independence, rejected his visa application.
"We have no idea why the government rejected the entry visa of Mr. Dilixat Raxit while permitting visits by Chinese democracy activist Wei Jinsheng," TIP spokesman Huang Yu-yen said. Mr. Wei, who spent 18 years in Chinese prisons, was living in exile in the United States.
Mr. Dilixat, who lives in Sweden, had hoped to attend a conference in Taiwan on independence for China's ethnic minorities.
"We felt the government's refusal to issue him the entry visa was in deference to Beijing," said Tsai Ting-lin, another TIP official.
Tensions between Taipei and Beijing rose after Chen Shui-bian of the DPP swept to power last year, ending the 51-year rule over the island by the Kuomintang (Nationalist Party), which favors Taiwan's eventual reunification with China.
The Uighur leader had planned to meet with Taiwan Vice President Annette Lu and former President Lee Teng-hui during the trip.
The McDonald's explosion on Saturday took place at the base for millions of tourists who flock each year to see the famous 2,000-year-old army of terra cotta warriors near Xian.
The bomb went off at 6:30 p.m., when the eatery was packed with diners, the official Xinhua news agency reported.
One man, Xie Bin, 22, from central Hubei province, was killed instantly and 28 persons were injured, including one who later died from his injuries, media reports said.
The state-run China Daily said the man killed instantly was believed to be the bomber, but local police contacted by Agence France-Presse declined to confirm this and have released no information about the identity of the bomber.
An employee of a newspaper in Xian told AFP, however, that the paper had learned from police that neither of the two dead was the perpetrator. "They haven't arrested the bomber yet. They said the two people killed were just customers," the employee said.
Xian police said Monday there was no indication the blast was set off by Muslim separatists. "It's true [the McDonalds is] just [220 to 330 yards] from the mosque," a police official told AFP. "But there is probably no connection."
Xian is home to about 60,000 Muslims belonging to the Hui minority, descendants of Arab and Persian traders, leading to speculation the blast could be linked to Islamic extremists.
Muslim separatists among the Uighur ethnic minority have been blamed by authorities for a series of bombings in recent years, mainly in the western region of Xinjiang.
"People in other countries frequently attack McDonald's because it's an icon of Western popular culture," said Lau Siu-kai, a sociologist at Chinese University of Hong Kong.
The McDonald's opened two months ago and was the only one in Xian and China's northwest.
The latest explosions add to a grim recent record of bloody bomb attacks in China, blamed by some analysts on crumbling social networks and growing inequality, coupled with relatively easy access to explosives, which are used widely in construction work.
Early this week, state media reported that China would amend its criminal law to give the government more power to crack down on terrorism.
The amendment was formulated "to deal more harshly with criminal acts of terrorists, for the protection of national security, social order and safeguard of safety of people's lives and property," senior lawmakers were told.
While backing the global anti-terrorism campaign, Beijing has been criticized for using the international climate as an excuse to try to crush Muslim and ethnic separatists, especially those among the Turkic-speaking Uighurs in western Xinjiang province.
Less than five months ago, a Han Chinese policeman in Kucha died after a hand-grenade attack said to have been carried out by the East Turkestan Freedom Fighters Organization, one of many underground groups in Xinjiang that attacked police stations and public facilities during the mid-1990s.
Armed Uighur bands are also active in former Soviet republics west of Xinjiang, which comprises a strategic region bordering Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan, Tajikistan, Mongolia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, as well as three other provinces of modern China: Gansu, Qinghai and Tibet.
China's Manchu or Ch'ing dynasty overthrown in 1912 after an uprising inspired by Sun Yat-sen, founder of the Kuomintang conquered the Uighur kingdom of Eastern Turkestan in 1759 and dominated it until 1862, according to a historical summary at an Internet site maintained by Uighur exiles (www.taklemakan.org/uighur-l).
In 1863, the Uighurs expelled the Manchus, and created an independent kingdom the following year that was recognized by the Ottoman Empire, Tsarist Russia, and Great Britain. But concern about Russian expansion into the region led Britain to finance its reconquest by Manchu China in 1876. The latter renamed the territory Xinjiang ("New Dominion"), and it was annexed to China in 1884.


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