(Updates with confirmation of casualties, analyst quote in fourth paragraph.)
May 22 (Bloomberg) -- Several blasts tore through a market in China’s turbulent Xinjiang region, killing 31 people and wounding 94, highlighting the government’s inability to end a spike in attacks it blames on ethnic Uighur separatists.
Two sport-utility vehicles plowed into the market in the regional capital of Urumqi as the occupants tossed out explosives, the official Xinhua News Agency reported, citing unidentified witnesses. One of the vehicles then blew up, Xinhua said. President Xi Jinping pledged to punish terrorists and spare no effort in maintaining stability, it said.
The attack escalated concern that the government hasn’t been able to contain the unrest in the northwestern area, where tensions between Uighurs and Han Chinese have resulted in violence. It followed a bomb and knife attack at an Urumqi train station on April 30 that killed three people, and a train station assault in the southwestern city of Kunming in March that left 33 people dead as the violence spread beyond Xinjiang.
“The trend is that terrorist activities are not only spreading from traditional hot spots like Xinjiang to wider areas, but also their intensity continues to grow,” said Li Wei, a research director at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations in Beijing who studies anti-terrorism. “Beijing will need to upgrade countermeasures as well.”
The attack came two days after courts in Xinjiang sentenced 39 people to jail for spreading terrorism.
Photos circulating on the Internet that purported to show the aftermath of today’s explosions showed at least three people lying on a tree-lined street strewn with produce about 50 yards in front of a fire. In a second photograph, a police official in a white helmet and flak jacket directed traffic away from the flames.
The attack is “anti-human, anti-society and anti- civilization, and should be condemned in one voice by Chinese and the international community,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said in Beijing today. “The Chinese government has the confidence and ability to strike at the arrogance of the terrorists, and their intentions will absolutely not be achieved.”
Local authorities had pushed to shut down the market last month to clear roads in the area and ease traffic, and then postponed the move until September after vendors complained, the Xinjiang government news portal Tianshan.net reported April 17.
China’s Public Security Minister Guo Shengkun and a working team left for Xinjiang, according to a statement posted on the ministry’s official microblog.
Violence has been on the rise since October when a sport- utility vehicle rammed into a crowd and burst into flames at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square, killing the three occupants and two bystanders. Authorities blamed that attack on Uighur separatists.
After the train station attack in Urumqi, Xi visited the region and vowed decisive action to “resolutely suppress the terrorists’ rampant momentum.”
Authorities have blamed the East Turkestan Islamic Movement for past violence in Xinjiang. The movement was founded by a Uighur separatist and listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department in 2002. China Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said last year the group was the country’s most direct security threat.
--With assistance from William Bi in Beijing and Ting Shi in Hong Kong.