Protesters push against a security force in Urumqi, in the Xinjiang region. The mostly Han Chinese crowd was angry over a series of syringe attacks in the city (Photo:AP)

Protesters push against a security force in Urumqi, in the Xinjiang region. The mostly Han Chinese crowd was angry over a series of syringe attacks in the city (Photo:AP)

Downtown streets in Urumqi, capital of Northwest China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, were quiet late Thursday night, hours after traffic control was imposed following large protests.

There were few pedestrians on downtown streets. Police persuaded about 100 people to leave the Nanhu Square in front of the municipal government.

Earlier Thursday, people gathered at several locations in downtown Urumqi Thursday to protest against hypodermic syringe attacks in Urumqi and demand better protection.

The protests, attended by tens of thousands of people, crippled traffic and forced shops in major commercial streets to close.

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 from the public held talks in the office building of the regional committee during the afternoon, but no details were available.

The protests were in response to a series of incidents in which people have been stabbed with hypodermic syringes.

Police said more than 1,000 people gathered at 10:50 am in the residential quarter of Xiaoximen. Another large crowd of protesters were at the Beiyuanchun farmers’ produce wholesale market at 10:30 am when a suspect was caught after allegedly stabbing a five-year-old girl.

The demonstrations spread to major streets in the city. People also turned out in large numbers in front of the Renmin Cinema and at Renmin Square.

Members of the Uygur ethnic minority were among the protesting crowds.

Protesters moved to the Xinjiang International Exhibition Center, where the 18th Urumqi Trade Fair was being held.

Staff working at the center were taken to safe locations.

After a stabbing incident during one of the protests, the crowd grabbed a woman believed to be responsible. Police intervened and prevented people from beating her. Police said a slew of syringe attacks on innocent people have happened in Urumqi since Aug 17.

The regional health department said 476 people have sought treatment. Eighty-nine showed obvious signs of having been attacked with a needle.

As of Wednesday, there were no deaths or symptoms of infectious diseases, viruses or toxic chemicals having been administered.

Zhu Hailun, head of the political and legal affairs commission of the CPC committee in Xinjiang, said members of nine ethnic groups, including Han, Uygur, Hui, Kazak and Mongolian had reported stabbing incidents.

Police have seized 21 suspects, of whom six were in police custody and four arrested for criminal prosecution, said the regional information office in mobile phone text messages to the public Thursday.

The messages said that the courts would hand down severe punishment to those found guilty.

The attacks came less than two months after the July 5 riot, in which 197 people were killed and 1,600 others injured.

Zhu said Xinjiang was directing all its efforts toward stopping the attacks and offering medical treatment to the victims.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu Thursday said of China’s response to the July 5 riot: “It was justified; any foreign country and international organization has no right to interfere in China’s internal affairs.” — Xinhua