- The Washington Times - Friday, March 20, 2009

BEIJING (AP) - An on-duty soldier was shot dead and his machine gun stolen, touching off a terrorism alert Friday in a major Chinese city.

Locals said police cordoned off the area and schools and businesses were instructed to step-up security after a soldier standing guard a military garrison was shot Thursday night in Chongqing. The official Xinhua News Agency said the attackers ran off with the 18-year-old soldier’s gun.

An employee at the Huarui Inn near the garrison said witnesses told him police tactical squads arrived at the scene 15 minutes after the attack.

“They haven’t allowed vehicles to pass (through the area) since last night. There are more police around,” said the man, who hung up when asked for his name.

The Xinhua report provided few details but said police and the military were jointly investigating.

The Chongqing Daily on its Web site cited police as saying that the attack demanded a counterterrorism response.

Officials with Chongqing’s government either declined comment or said they were still trying to confirm the incident.

The shooting underscores an increase in violent crimes, often with guns, that has accompanied China’s free-market reforms and a loosening of social controls.

The government is also grappling with separatist movements in Tibet and Xinjiang, the latter a Muslim area abutting Central Asia where violent attacks have sporadically erupted.

Chongqing is a sprawling metropolis in central China that is a magnet for migrants from the countryside looking for work. Next door in Sichuan province, security has been tightened in Tibetan areas during March, the anniversary of several anti-Chinese uprisings.

Though the authoritarian government bans private gun ownership, it has acknowledged troubles dealing with armed criminal gangs that are worsening with growing joblessness.

The Ministry of Public Security announced this year it was setting up a special unit to deal with gangs. The agency has said in 2007 that 178,000 illegal guns and 4.75 million bullets were seized nationwide over a four-month period in 2006.

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