Thousands of troops, backed by tanks and metal barricades, patrolled the western city of Urumqi on Saturday after five people died in protests over a series of bizarre needle attacks that China's police chief has blamed on Muslim separatists.
The hypodermic needle attacks have unnerved a population already shaken by ethnic rioting two months ago that the government said left nearly 200 people dead. Saturday marked the two-month anniversary of the rioting, the region's worst ethnic violence in decades, The Associated Press reports.
Zhang Hong, vice-mayor of Urumqi, confirmed to reporters that there had been casualties in the latest unrest, but did not explain how they died.
"On Thursday, 14 people were injured and sent to hospital and five people were killed in the incidents including two innocent people," he said, BBC News informs.
"Hospitals in Urumqi are treating 531 victims of hypodermic needle attacks," the state-run news agency said Friday, citing local police. "Statistics from the city's 24 hospitals say 106 of the 531 were showing obvious signs of needle attacks. The victims include members of ethnic groups such as Han, Uygurand Kazakstan. "
There have been no reports of deaths from the stabbings.
Authorities have detained 21 suspects, "of whom six are in custody and four have been arrested for criminal prosecution, said the regional information office in a mobile phone text message to the public Thursday," Xinhua reported.