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Monday, December 09, 2019

China’s Ebola Curbs Drive Africans Away From Youth Olympics

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

Saying they were unhappy about being stigmatized over fears of Ebola, some African countries have withdrawn from a youth Olympics tournament set to begin Saturday in the Chinese city of Nanjing.
Nigeria said it was in the process of sending home a delegation of 19 officials and teenage athletes who had arrived in China earlier this week.

Sierra Leone and Liberia decided not to even come to China.

The International Olympic Committee in Geneva announced Friday that athletes from Ebola-impacted countries would not be allowed in swimming or combat events. The committee said the decision was made after consultation with the World Health Organization and Chinese officials.

“I am sad that the athletes are suffering twice, first because of the outbreak of the disease in their region and second because they are not able to compete here in Nanjing,” said IOC President Thomas Bach while touring the youth village Friday in Nanjing.

“Unfortunately, we had to take some precautionary measures to ensure the safety of the young athletes taking part at the Youth Olympic Games.”

The Nigerians, however, decided to send their athletes home because of their treatment in China.

“Morale is not very high,” said Nigeria’s consul general in Shanghai, Eniola Ayorinde Otepola, in a telephone interview Friday. The athletes “were excited to be participating in an international athletic event and arriving to face this kind of stigma and suspicion, would not allow them to perform very well.”

A delegation of 19 Nigerian athletes and officials had arrived at the Shanghai airport Tuesday and it was clear from their reception, said Otepola, that it would be difficult for them to compete in China. He declined to elaborate on exactly what happened at the airport.

“They will go home tomorrow,” he said.

China announced earlier in the week that it was setting up special channels at international airports for passengers arriving from West Africa. A photo distributed Friday by Chinese state media showed four Nigerians wearing face masks undergoing a health inspection by officers with the entry-exit inspection and quarantine bureau dressed in full-body protective suits.

The head of Sierra Leone’s National Olympic Committee, Patrick Cocker, said it decided to withdraw from the games after being warned by the Chinese embassy in Freetown that its delegation “might find themselves in a troubled and awkward situation once they get to China’s port of entry,” according to the Associated Press.

The youth Olympics are scheduled to begin Saturday and run for two weeks through Aug. 28. Roughly 3,000 athletes are expected to participate. These are only the second youth Olympics, the first tournament having taken place in 2010 in Singapore.

Of the four countries impacted by Ebola, only Guinea is continuing its participation in the games, with four athletes competing in track and field events. Two other Guinean athletes, who were supposed to compete in diving and judo, have been withdrawn.

Emmanuelle Moreau, the IOC’s spokeswoman, said the committee had been informed of Sierra Leone and Liberia’s withdrawal, but was still hoping that Nigeria would at least participate in the opening ceremonies.

Photo via WikiCommons

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Deadly Clash In China: An Ambush By Uighurs Or A Government Massacre?

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — What happened in the dead of night on a desolate road near a desert oasis in northwestern China is so shrouded in mystery that it would seem that nearly everybody who witnessed it took an oath of silence — or is dead.

But the most reliable accounts suggest that heavy-handed religious restrictions on the eve of one of Islam’s largest holidays provoked an uprising by Uighurs against police and civilians.

According to official accounts, 96 people died in the July 28 clash in Shache, also known as Yarkand, making it the deadliest incident of ethnic violence in China in five years. Uighurs, members of a Turkic Muslim minority concentrated in the Xinjiang region, say the death toll was much greater. Some are describing it as a massacre.

Nury Turkel, a Washington-based attorney who is active with the World Uyghur Conference, said it appeared the government was trying to hide something. “Something terrible has happened that they are trying to sweep under the rug,” Turkel said.

Like many such incidents, this one appears to have started small and spun out of control because of overreactions and miscalculations.

A resident of the town said the trouble began July 27 when Muslims were preparing for the Eid al-Fitr holiday, which ends the holy month of Ramadan. About 40 women were detained for wearing clothing deemed excessively Islamic, which is banned in Xinjiang.

“The women’s husbands and sons went to talk to the relevant people, saying that the women had to go home to prepare for the holiday. They did not agree,” said the resident, who, like other Uighurs in China, spoke on condition of anonymity.

Ghayyar Kuerban, a Uighur from Shache who lives in Germany but is in touch with the town’s residents, heard a similar story.

“There was a religious gathering, which the security thought was illegal. A large number of security forces came. There was a confrontation and things escalated,” Kuerban said. He said he was told that 15 to 20 people were shot at the gathering and that riots spread afterward to nearby villages.

“It is still very ambiguous,” Kuerban said. “There has been absolutely no independent reporting on what happened.”

Authorities allege that there was an “organized and premeditated” attack in which assailants armed with knives and axes ambushed cars and trucks on Route 215, the main road south into the town.
They identified the mastermind as Nuramat Sawut, a former imam who had links to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, a separatist group operating across the border in Pakistan.

The Xinjiang Daily, a state-run newspaper, reported Thursday that Sawut had been fired from his job as an imam in a village mosque because of his disrespect for the elderly and poor knowledge of Islam.

“He is the shame of our village,” the newspaper quoted a cousin of Sawut’s as saying. “After the terrorist attack, everybody has drawn a clear line. We all support the Communist Party and the government in their efforts to strike a hard line against terrorism and return a peaceful life to us.”

A government-run website, Tianshan, ran a melodramatic feature about two Uighur motorists who were killed in the road ambush by “mobsters waving big knives and axes whose eyes were red.”

“You need to join our holy war. Otherwise we will kill you,” a member of the mob told the motorists, according to the report.

“This is a crime. This is destroying the reputation of Islam. You are not real Muslims,” one of the motorists responded shortly before he was killed. The story did not identify the source of the dialogue.

According to officials, 37 civilians were killed in the incident and 59 assailants were shot dead by police. An additional 215 people were arrested.

Overseas Uighurs discount the Chinese version of events. They say authorities locked down the town for days, blocking telephone calls and the Internet to prevent news from leaking out. The only reporting on what happened has come from the state news media.

Rebiya Kadeer, head of the World Uyghur Conference, said in an interview with Radio Free Asia that her group had information that 2,000 to 3,000 people were killed.

“We have evidence in hand that at least 2,000 Uighurs in the neighborhood of Ailixihu township have been killed by Chinese security forces on the first day and they ‘cleaned up’ the dead bodies on the second and third day during a curfew that was imposed,” Kadeer told the news service.

Other Uighur activists say that estimate is probably too high, but they believe far more people were killed than the 96 reported by the government.

“The Chinese government needs to allow independent reporting here if they want to be a respected member of the international community,” Turkel said.

Photo via WikiCommons

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China Releases Footage Of Video Tiananmen Square Attack

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — In a break with its usual secrecy, the Chinese government on Tuesday released video of a deadly attack in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square last fall, along with a video purportedly made by the assailants.

The unusual step was designed to bolster Beijing’s claims that a recent string of attacks around China were the work of Islamic terrorists and not random acts of vengeance by disgruntled individuals.

Two pedestrians were killed and about 40 were injured in the October incident, in which a white vehicle drove through a crowd of tourists and then burst into flames in front of the Forbidden City in the center of the Chinese capital.

The video released Tuesday by the official New China News Agency was included in a 24-minute program, simply titled “Terrorism.”

One section, reportedly made before the attack, shows four people, including a toothless old woman, wearing black headbands and chanting, “God is great.”

The Chinese agency said three of the four — identified as the driver, his wife and his mother — were killed in the car that exploded at Tiananmen Square. In another section of the same video, another suspect is shown burning a Chinese and an American flag.

Chinese authorities also released high-resolution video, apparently captured by security cameras, of the vehicle jumping a curb, plowing through a crowd of pedestrians and bursting into flames under the iconic portrait of Mao Tse-tung. A black flag with Arabic script can be seen hanging from a window of the vehicle.

Besides the occupants of the vehicle, two tourists, one Chinese and one Filipino, were killed in the attack.

Chinese authorities say the attackers were inspired by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, a shadowy organization seeking an independent state in Xinjiang, China’s northwestern-most region, which borders Pakistan and Afghanistan. Xinjiang is home to the Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim ethnic minority.

This month, three Uighur defendants were sentenced to death by a court in Urumqi, the Xinjiang capital, on charges of organizing the Tiananmen Square attack. Some of the video shown Tuesday was released during the trial, but not widely distributed.

One of the Uighurs sentenced to death was interviewed for the program on terrorism. Wearing an orange prison vest, he is quoted as saying that the attack was inspired by DVDs and Islamic propaganda on the Internet.

“We started to watch these in 2013,” he says, according to a translator. “I downloaded it to my telephone and watched many times. … I feel so pumped up when I see it. I want to participate in holy war.”

The program was released at a news conference Tuesday by the National Internet Information Office. Besides bolstering the government’s claim that Islamic terrorists are at work in China, the video was designed to justify a crackdown on foreign Internet sites.

“We have strengthened our control over domestic sites, but the Internet is borderless, and terrorists have hidden their videos on many famous foreign social media websites,” the narrator intones in the video, as a screenshot of Google’s home page is displayed.

© / Philippe Lopez

Missing Malaysia Airlines Jet Not In Search Area, Officials Say

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — The case of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 became ever more mysterious Thursday as Australia claimed that the missing airliner is not in the more than 300-square-mile patch of ocean where authorities have been searching since early April.

The admission came after a U.S. Navy official disclosed that the four “pings” once described as the most promising clues to the plane’s supposed location in the southern Indian Ocean most likely did not come from the plane’s black boxes.

“I wouldn’t say we are back to square one, but maybe to square one-and-a-half,” said Ron Bishop, an Australian search-and-rescue expert and head of aviation at Central Queensland University.

The flight disappeared March 8 on its way from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing with 239 people aboard. Between April 5 and April 8, officials announced that an Australian ship equipped with a U.S.-made towed pinger locator had detected four signals that matched the frequency of the missing Boeing 777’s black boxes.

But the U.S. Navy’s deputy director of ocean engineers, Michael Dean, said in an interview late Wednesday with CNN that the pings probably didn’t come from the plane.

“Our best theory at this point is that (the pings were) likely some sound produced by the ship,” he was quoted telling CNN.

The Australian task force coordinating the search indirectly confirmed Dean’s assessment in an obliquely worded statement on Thursday.

“The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has advised that the search in the vicinity of the acoustic detections can now be considered complete and in its professional judgment, the area can now be discounted as the final resting place of MH370,” read the statement from the Joint Agency Coordination Center.

The announcement bolstered various conspiracy theorists who believe that the plane was hijacked, and heartened some family members who believe that passengers might still be alive and held hostage somewhere.

“To a family member, it is good news that the plane is not under the water of the Indian Ocean … the hope has come back,” said Sarah Bajc, an American teacher working in Beijing whose partner, Philip Wood, was one of the passengers.

One of the most vocal of the passengers’ relatives, Bajc said that the initial announcement that signals had been detected from the plane struck many family members as too convenient.

“Wow, the first time the ping tracers went into the water they find the ping, like it is magical,” Bajc said.

The setback is an embarrassment for Australia, which has been leading the search. During a visit to China last month, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters, “We are confident that we know the position of the black box flight recorder to within some kilometers.”

But after weeks of scouring the Indian Ocean without finding a single confirmed piece of debris, many scientists began to question the claim of locating the black boxes, saying that the signals could have emanated from pinger transmitters used by marine biologists to track ocean animals or from the ship itself.

Aviation experts have also questioned Inmarsat, the British satellite company, which, based on an analysis of automated communications between the plane’s engine and a satellite, concluded that the plane crashed into the southern Indian Ocean, mostly likely after running out of fuel. Inmarsat released its raw data earlier this week in order to bolster its conclusions.

Some critics have called for search efforts to resume elsewhere, particularly along a northern corridor toward central Asia, which was initially identified a possible route after the plane deviated from its usual course.

“It could be in the Northern Hemisphere, maybe someplace not very populated on land. It could still be in the water somewhere, just in a different place,” said aviation expert Bishop.

The Australian coordinating agency said in its statement Thursday that search efforts will expand to 23,000 square miles along the arc defined by Inmarsat. A Chinese survey ship, Zhu Kezhen, has begun a bathymetric survey, mapping the ocean floor, with assistance from Australian and Malaysian vessels.

AFP Photo/Ted Aljibe

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China Holds Mass Sentencing Of 55 People At Football Stadium

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — In a spectacle designed to show their resolve against terrorism, Chinese authorities held a public sentencing in a football stadium in the northwestern Xinjiang region of 55 people convicted of violent crimes.

More than 7,000 people filled the stadium stands in Yili prefecture during Tuesday’s sentencing and videos were distributed by police Wednesday to Chinese media. It was an unusually public display in a country where court proceedings are normally closed to the public.

The sentencing follows the car bombing last week in the northwestern city of Urumqi in which 43 people died, the deadliest attack in China in nearly five years.

From the names of the defendants provided by authorities, they appeared to be ethnic Uighurs. Uighurs are a mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking people from northwestern China.

Li Minghui, the deputy secretary of the local Communist Party, was quoted by the New China News Agency predicting that religious extremists and separatists would soon become “as unpopular as rats crossing the street.”

The defendants were convicted of crimes including homicide, membership in terrorist organizations, harboring criminals and secession, which in China refers to ethnic minorities coveting their own state.

Details of the crimes were not released except in one case: the murder in April 2013 of a family of four, including a 3-year-old child, who were killed with hatchets and knives in their rented apartment. The family had recently moved from central China, and the implication was that they were killed because they were ethnic Han, the Chinese majority.

The three men convicted of the murder were given death sentences, according to state media.

China is on high alert after a cluster of bombings and stabbings of increasing sophistication and lethality. In last week’s attack, two SUVs crashed through a barricade into a crowded pedestrian market while their occupants hurled bombs through the car windows.

Last month, passengers at the Urumqi train station were attacked with knives and bombs on the same day that President Xi Jinping was visiting the region.

Jacob Zenn, an analyst with the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, said terrorism might come to dominate Xi’s leadership in much the same way it did for President George W. Bush.

“Terrorism might come to mark the first five years of Xi Jinping’s term, and it’s not an easy battle to win because you are judged,” Zenn said. “Every attack is a loss for you. It’s going to be hard to be foolproof on this.”

More than 200 people have been arrested in Xinjiang in recent weeks. On Tuesday, local authorities said they had busted a bomb-making gang out of Hotan in the Xinjiang region and confiscated 1.8 tons of explosives.

Chinese authorities said the plotters had been inspired and instructed by jihadist videos.

Photo: Akasped via Flickr
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Explosions Kill 31 At Market In China’s Troubled Xinjiang Region

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — Two explosive-laden cars plowed into a crowded morning market in Urumqi on Thursday, leaving 31 people dead and 94 injured in the deadliest in a spate of terrorist attacks in China.

The attack took place about 8 a.m. outside the People’s Park, which was crowded with senior citizens who had just finished their morning exercises and were eating breakfast at the market.

State news media said the vehicles crashed through police security fences and plowed into the crowds while the occupants tossed explosives through the windows. One of the vehicles exploded.

Authorities did not comment on the ethnicity of the attackers, although witnesses suggested they were Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking, Muslim population that used to be the majority in Xinjang, China’s northwestern-most region.

“Two 4500s (Toyota Land Cruisers) with little flags in the Uighur language just drove past me hitting anyone in their way. And then there were a chain of explosions,” wrote Zhang Xiaoyu, general manager of a news portal in Urumqi. The post was later deleted by censors.

“The scene is unbearable. There are many people dead,” wrote one witness on the Internet, who posted photographs of the scene.

From the high initial death toll, it looks as though the attack would prove even deadlier than a March 1 knife attack at the Kunming railroad station in which 33 died, one of the worst such incidents in recent memory.

“I saw flames and heavy smoke as vehicles and goods were on fire while vendors escaped leaving their goods behind,” another witness wrote online. He said he was less than 100 yards from the scene.

Photographs showed vendors lying bloodied on the pavements amid overturned tables of bananas and potatoes. An elderly woman with blood streaming from her forehead sat on the pavement looking over a young woman lying prone on the street.

The attacks came amid a spate of bombings and knifings attributed to Uighur separatists, who complain about Chinese restrictions on the Uighurs’ religion, language and freedom of movement.

During a visit last month to the region by President Xi Jinping, the Urumqi train station was attacked by knife- and bomb-wielding assailants. Three people died. An unverified claim of responsibility for the attack was released shortly afterward by the Turkestan Islamic Party, a shadowy separatist group that operates out of Pakistan and uses the name East Turkestan to refer to Xinjiang.

The Lanzhou-based Central Asia Studies Institute says more than 170 people have died in China since the beginning of 2013 as a result of Uighur separatist attacks.

“Why don’t you let us have a stable life? East Turkestan separatists get out of my hometown!” one microblogger wrote on Weibo after Thursday’s attack.

“Most victims are elderly. Lunatics! Animals!” another wrote.

Urumqi was also the scene of ethnic riots in 2009 that left nearly 200 people dead, most of them Han, the ethnic majority in China.

Photo: akasped via Flickr

Brutal Murders Of Three Fishermen In China Put Spotlight On Rise Of Islamic Terrorism

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — The three men’s bodies were found bloodied on the banks of a lake where they had been fishing last month, one of them slashed in the neck so deeply he was almost decapitated.

The April 27 triple slaying of the Chinese men in an ethnic Uighur section of the Xinjiang region has raised once again the specter of a new wave of Islamic terrorism roiling China.

The killings, first reported Thursday by Radio Free Asia, took place in a rural area about 100 miles southwest of Kashgar, one of the westernmost cities in China. President Xi Jinping was visiting that day to promote the fight against separatists and delivered a speech calling Kashgar the “front line in anti-terrorism and maintaining social stability,” state media reported. Xi’s visit was also punctuated by a bombing and knife attack at a train station in Urumqi, the regional capital.

Relatives of the slain men have accused Chinese authorities of covering up the details in order to downplay the extent of ethnic violence in the region.

“Anyone with common sense can tell this is a terrorist attack…. What are they trying to hide?” they said in a letter signed by the widows of the three men.

The letter was posted on an Internet site May 3 but removed shortly afterward, presumably on orders of Chinese authorities. Comments about the letter in a Kashgar online forum were also removed, and the accounts of the people who commented were blocked.

The three men were employees of state-owned companies, one with a bank and two with an automobile repair company. They reportedly liked to fish on weekends and had gone to a pond near their homes in Yecheng county. Their mutilated bodies were discovered by a fourth man who had traveled with them but was fishing alone at another section of the pond.

“Their car was there. Their money was there. It was definitely not a robbery,” said Zhou Jianlai, manager of the Zepu County Tongda Transportation Co., where some of the men worked. “The police have not solved the case yet. They are taking it as a regular criminal case for now.”

Experts in Xinjiang say there has been a surge in ethnic violence, much of which has gone unreported.

“The tempo and tone of the attacks has increased very significantly in the last two years,” said Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based terrorism expert. “These are really low-tech attacks using knives, sticks, stones and gasoline. The Chinese government likes to classify them as criminal incidents, but they are not regular crimes.”

Figures leaked last year by public security officials to state media showed that there had been 200 attacks in 2012 and that the numbers were increasing.

“There is no clear definition of what is a terror attack. You have to know what the motives were of the killers,” said another expert, Yang Shu of the Institute for Central Asian Studies at Lanzhou University. In the case of the triple slaying, Yang said, the extreme brutality made it likely that it was not a classic terrorist attack but a “racially profiled attack targeting Han Chinese.”

Xinjiang, which borders disputed Kashmir, is one of China’s most ethnically fraught regions. The Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking people, often resent the influx of China’s majority Han and restrictions on the practice of Islam.

Uighurs were blamed for one of China’s deadliest incidents in recent years, a March 1 rampage at a train station in Kunming that left 33 people dead.

Yang said his institute had tracked 169 deaths from publicly reported attacks in China since the beginning of 2013, with many other incidents unreported.

In the letter accusing authorities of a coverup, family members of the slain men said there had been another killing that same day in Yecheng county: a 13-year-old girl getting out of a taxi who was stabbed by a woman wearing a black veil.

Details of that incident could not be confirmed, and a family member contacted Thursday declined to comment.

Photo via Ted Aljibe

Chinese Dissident, In TV Shaming, Apologizes For Spilling Secrets

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — One of China’s most venerable dissident journalists was paraded on state television Thursday morning, apologizing for spilling state secrets that embarrassed the Chinese Communist Party.

The public shaming of Gao Yu, a 70-year-old grandmother who had written widely about the pro-democracy protests at Tiananmen Square, was perhaps the most shocking in a recent series of on-air confessions.

“I believe that what I did broke the law and harmed the interests of the country. This was extremely wrong,” Gao, wearing an orange prison vest, said in the televised broadcast. “I sincerely and earnestly accept this lesson and I want to confess.”

Chinese state media described Gao as leaking state secrets, leading some commentators to call her China’s Edward Snowden. But the leaked document in question appears to have been ideological guidelines distributed to cadres last year by the Communist Party’s Central Committee. The so-called Document No. 9 railed against seven subversive elements — Western democracy, human rights, civic participation, neo-liberalism, independent media, questioning the history of the Chinese Communist Party and questioning China’s economic policy.

The ideas were widely reported in the foreign media, as well as in Communist Party journals, but Gao is accused of having obtained the full text of the document in June and of giving it to the Chinese-language website of Deutsche Welle, the German broadcaster.

Gao’s arrest, coming almost a year after the alleged crime, appears timed to the upcoming 25th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, military crackdown at Tiananmen Square, one of the most sensitive dates on the Chinese calendar.

“The government is trying to intimidate anybody who might discuss June 4 — that this is a taboo topic and that this is what will happen to you if you discuss it,” said Zhang Lifan, a Communist Party historian based in Beijing.

It is customary before the June 4 anniversary for the Chinese government to keep activists under house arrest as a precaution, but this year it has happened sooner and with more vigor than in the past.

Pu Zhiqiang, a prominent lawyer, was arrested early Monday morning after hosting a seminar for writers and academics on the Tiananmen Square crackdown at this home over the weekend. He was charged with “picking quarrels and provoking trouble,” a catch-all charge often leveled against activists. At least four others who attended the session have also been detained.

Ironically, Gao was supposed to attend the same event at Pu’s home, but didn’t show up because she was already in detention. She had disappeared mysteriously from her home a week before, her whereabouts unknown until her appearance on television Thursday morning.

The broadcast on Gao was aired at 6.30 a.m., when viewership is low, and her face was blurred during the broadcast — courtesies that suggest she will be treated leniently in return for the confession.

Televised confessions — a legacy of the Communist custom of self-criticism — have become common fixtures on Chinese television the last few years. Among those trotted out for the cameras of late have been Charles Xue, a Chinese American blogger, a GlaxoSmithKline executive and a journalist.

Still, the roundup of activists is a disappointment for Chinese liberals, many of whom had enthusiastically predicted that Xi Jinping, who took over as president last year, would allow more candid discussion of the Tiananmen Square crackdown.

“Twenty-five years of official impunity is enough — it is high time for the Chinese authorities themselves to face the truth, assume responsibility for their actions, and begin the healing process for the nation,” Sharon Hom, director of the New York-based organization Human Rights in China, said in a statement released Thursday.

According to the organization, Chinese authorities also have banned Ding Zilin, a prominent activist, from Beijing until after the June 4 anniversary. Ding, whose 17-year-old son was shot to death in 1989, is the best-known member of Tiananmen Mothers, a support group for families of victims. Anywhere from several hundreds to thousands of people were killed during the crackdown again demonstrators in 1989.

AFP Photo/Mark Ralston

Knife Attack At China Rail Station Is Third Since March

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — Men with knives slashed and injured at least six people at the main train station in Guangzhou on Tuesday, the third such attack in a Chinese station since March.

Guangzhou police said that six passengers were injured and that one of the four assailants was shot and killed by police.

Witnesses described the attackers as being dressed in white and wearing white caps, often worn by Muslims, but it was unclear if they were Uighurs, the Muslim minority implicated in the earlier train station attacks.

According to accounts in state media, the attack took place at 11:30 a.m. local time, with at least one attacker ambushing passengers who were emerging from a train from Kunming. The departure city was the location of a March 1 knifing attack in which 33 people were killed. Another attacker was stationed at the information board and yet another at the exit to the main square.

“We just came out of the station. We were taking pictures in the square of the train station and all of a sudden, two attackers came out with big knives like you use to cut watermelons,” a woman identified as Liu Yuying was quoted telling China News Service.

A shopkeeper told a Guangzhou newspaper that he’d seen a man sitting outside his store for hours, who suddenly pulled a long knife from his bag and began screaming as he tried to slash people at random. The shopkeeper said he saw the man stab a pedicab driver.

Among the six injured, a woman was said to be in critical condition, while others had wounds mainly to the arms and hands.

Although the toll wasn’t large, the attack in Guangzhou, one of China’s largest cities, with a population of 16 million, is likely to terrify people unnerved by the earlier string of attacks.

Last week, China experienced one of its first suicide bombings directed against civilians when two men with briefcases blew themselves up at the train station in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region that is home to the Uighur minority. The men, identified as Uighurs, also were armed with knives.

In the wake of the knifing attacks, Chinese beat officers have begun carrying guns in many large cities. Yangcheng Daily, a Guangzhou newspaper, reported that 4,000 special police armed with guns began patrolling on May 1. Many Chinese were critical of the police in Kunming for not responding more robustly to the March knifing attack.

© / Mark Ralston

Chinese Police ID Uighur Man As Suspect In Urumqi Bombing

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — Chinese police have identified a 39-year-old Uighur man they suspect to be one of the first Chinese suicide bombers and have put out a nationwide alert to identify a second man killed in an attack last week at a train station in Urumqi.

The attack took place on Wednesday night, the eve of the busy May Day holiday, and killed three people — including the two assailants — and left 79 injured.

It happened hours after Chinese President Xi Jinping wrapped up a tour of the far northwestern Xinjiang region during which he called for a crackdown on terrorism.

China’s state-run Global Times on Monday named one of the bombers as Sedirdin Sawut and said he was from the Aksu, which is south of the regional capital of Urumqi. Local police took the unusual step of releasing photographs showing the faces of the two dead assailants, offering $15,500 for information about the suspected second bomber, who remains unidentified.

Chinese police also put out an alert for the arrest of 10 of Sawut’s family members, including his wife, father, father-in-law, brothers and cousins. The Global Times quoted an unnamed source saying officials believe that the attack was the work of a “crime family deeply influenced by extremist ideology.”

Although the death toll in the Urumqi bombing was small, the attack nevertheless sent tremors through China because it was one of the first cases involving suicide bombers of the type that have terrorized other parts of the world. Surveillance photos released over the weekend showed the two men strolling through the crowd of passengers carrying briefcases. They also attacked bystanders with knives.

“This is the first suicide bombing of this type in Urumqi,” said Yang Shu, head of the Central Asia Studies Institute in Lanzhou. Most other attacks have not involved explosives, only knives and gasoline, such as the car that plowed into pedestrians at Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in October.

“The number of attacks is increasing and the attackers are getting more professional in what they do,” Yang said.

In the largest such attack this year, 33 people were knifed to death at a train station in Kunming in March.

© / Mark Ralston

Massive Church In China Demolished; Officials Cite Permit Issue

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

WENZOU, China — One of the largest churches in the Chinese coastal city of Wenzhou, an 85,000-square-foot edifice with soaring cathedral ceilings, stained glass and spires dominating the landscape, was demolished Monday on orders of Communist Party authorities.

Chinese officials said the demolition of the $5 million Sanjiang Church was ordered because the church was four times the size for which the building had been permitted. However, activists say it is part of a campaign against churches taking place throughout Zhejiang province.

The demolition ended a monthlong standoff between authorities and parishioners, who had been staging a vigil to protect their church.

“Everybody was crying,” said a 25-year-old churchgoer who gave her name as Yu Xinwei. She watched the demolition Monday with other worshippers from behind the police barricades that girded the church. “You have no idea how hard it was for us to build that church. It took 12 years. We couldn’t even dare pray for a miracle to reverse the course.”

As many as a dozen churches in Zhejiang province, where Wenzhou is located, have received orders for demolition or to remove their crosses, according to activists.

ChinaAid, a Texas-based rights organization focusing on persecution of Christians, reported that the campaign against the churches was led by a provincial party secretary, Xia Baolong, who complained that crosses were “too conspicuous and too flashy.”

One of the most prosperous cities in China, Wenzhou is sometimes nicknamed “China’s Jerusalem,” according to Cao Nanlai, an anthropologist at Beijing’s Renmin University who recently published a book about the city’s Christians.

“Wenzhou people are very well-known for their entrepreneurial spirit and they express their Christianity through real estate,” said Cao. “There have been other churches demolished, but this one is the largest.”

Religion is closely regulated in China. But unlike other churches that ran into trouble with authorities, Sanjiang was part of the official Three-Self Patriotic Movement, China’s only state-sanctioned Protestant church.

Officials from Yongjia county told local media Tuesday that the church was demolished because it was built four times larger than the permit it received and in addition had a large underground parking lot.

The demolition, officials were quoted as saying, “was in accordance with law and demonstrated the spirit of rule of law and fairness.”

Photo: akasped via Flickr

Search Goes On In Ocean’s Stirred ‘Teacup’ Of Garbage

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — The search and rescue teams working off the west coast of Australia seeking the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 discovered what oceanographers have been warning: Even the most far-flung stretches of ocean are full of garbage.

For the first time since the search focused on the southern Indian Ocean 10 days ago, the skies were clear enough and the waves calm, allowing ships to retrieve the “suspicious items” spotted by planes and on satellite imagery.

But examined on board, none of it proved to be debris from the missing plane, just the ordinary garbage swirling around in the ocean.

“A number of objects were retrieved by HMAS Success and Haixun 01 yesterday,” reported the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in a news release Sunday. “The objects have been described as fishing equipment and other flotsam.”

A cluster of orange objects spotted by a search plane on Sunday drew the same results, the Associated Press reported the following day: It was just fishing equipment.

Using a fresh analysis of flight data, investigators on Friday moved the search location in the southern Indian Ocean 680 miles to the northeast — waters where the currents are weaker but where there is more debris, according to an Australian oceanographer.

It is an oddity in one of the most remote places on the planet, far from any islands, shipping lanes or flight paths.

“You have garbage from Australia, from Indonesia, from India,” said Erik van Sebille, an oceanographer at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. “There are small vortexes that are mixing up the debris like stirring a teacup.”

Science writer Marc Lallanilla has referred to the search for Flight 370 as a “needle in a garbage patch.”

“In addition to foul weather, administrative bungling and the vastness of the search area, the search for MH 370 has been compounded by one other factor: the incredible amount of garbage already floating in the search area — and in oceans worldwide,” Lallanilla wrote on the website

The complicating factor underscored the difficulty the search teams face in trying to find out what happened to the Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers and crew. The plane disappeared March 8 during a flight to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital.

Australian authorities said Sunday that a naval support ship, the Ocean Shield, will depart from Perth on Monday with a “black box detector” supplied by the U.S. Navy. The Towed Pinger Locator 25 carries a device that should be able to detect the so-called black boxes of the plane in waters as deep as 20,000 feet. The boxes record pilots’ conversations and flight data.

The search team is in a race against time because black boxes’ batteries last only 30 to 45 days.

The odds are stacked against finding them in time without a trail of debris to guide searchers. Investigators for now are merely surmising that the plane crashed into the Indian Ocean, based on an analysis of the flight’s path according to engine data transmitted via satellite.

The best-known precedent is the case of Air France Flight 447, which went into the Atlantic on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009. It took two years to find the body of the aircraft and the black boxes in the ocean depths, though pieces of debris were found on the surface within five days of the crash.

The lack of confirmed debris has prevented families from achieving any kind of closure over the deaths of their relatives. Chinese families, in particular, have rejected the assertion of the Malaysian government that the plane crashed with no survivors.

“We want evidence, truth and dignity,” read banners that Chinese relatives held up Sunday during an impromptu demonstration at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia Airlines said Sunday that it will fly families of passengers to Perth and will set up a family assistance center to provide counseling and logistical support, but will do so “only once it has been authoritatively confirmed that the physical wreckage found is that of MH 370.”

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott told reporters Monday that the search would continue.

“Now until we locate some actual wreckage from the aircraft and then do the regression analysis that might tell us where the aircraft went into the ocean, we’ll be operating on guesstimates,” Abbott told reporters at the Pearce air force base near Perth.

Photo: Xinhua/Zuma Press/MCT

Searchers Find No Sign Of Missing Plane, Only Garbage

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — The search and rescue teams working off the west coast of Australia seeking the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 discovered what oceanographers have been warning — that even the most far-flung stretches of ocean are full of garbage.

For the first time since the search focused on the south Indian Ocean 10 days ago, the sky was were clear enough and the sea was calm, allowing ships to retrieve the “suspicious items” spotted by planes and on satellite imagery.

But examined on board, none of them proved to be debris from the missing plane, just the ordinary garbage swirling around the ocean.

“A number of objects were retrieved by HMAS Success and Haixun 01 yesterday,” reported the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in a release Sunday. “The objects have been described as fishing equipment and other flotsam.”

The disappointing results demonstrated the difficulty the search teams face trying to find out what happened to the Boeing 777 and its 239 passengers and crew. The plane disappeared March 8 during a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

Australian authorities said Sunday that a naval support ship, the Ocean Shield, will depart from Perth on Monday with a “black box detector” supplied by the U.S. Navy. The Towed Pinger Locator 25 carries a device that should be able to detect the so-called black boxes of the plane in waters as deep as 20,000 feet. The boxes record pilots’ conversations and flight data.

The search team is in a race against time because the recorder battery lasts only 30 to 45 days. The odds are stacked against finding it in time without a trail of debris to guide them. Investigators are merely surmising that the flight crashed into the Indian Ocean, based on an analysis of the flight’s path from engine data transmitted via satellite.

The most famous precedent is the case of Air France Flight 447, which crashed over the Atlantic on a flight from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 2009. It took two years to find the body of the aircraft and the recorder, even though pieces of debris were found within five days.

The south Indian Ocean is one of the most remote places on the planet, far from any islands, shipping lanes or flight paths. But the area accumulates surprisingly large amounts of garbage, trapped in the gyre of slowly rotating currents.

“In addition to foul weather, administrative bungling and the vastness of the search area, the search for MH 370 has been compounded by one other factor: the incredible amount of garbage already floating in the search area — and in oceans worldwide,” Marc Lallanilla wrote on the website, where he referred to the search for Flight 370 as a “needle in a garbage patch.”

The lack of confirmed debris has prevented families from achieving any kind of closure over the deaths of their relatives. Chinese families, in particular, have rejected the assertion of the Malaysian government that the plane crashed with no survivors.

“We want evidence, truth, and dignity,” read banners that Chinese relatives held at an impromptu demonstration at a Kuala Lumpur hotel on Sunday.

Malaysia Airlines said Sunday that it will fly families of passengers to Perth and will set up a family assistance center to providing counseling and logistical support, but will do so “only once it has been authoritatively confirmed that they physical wreckage found is that of MH370.”

 AFP Photo/Malaysian Maritime Enforcement


Debris Spotted From Aircraft Could Be From Missing Malaysian Plane

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — Aircraft flying off the coast of Australia on Friday reported their first sightings of debris that could have come from the long-missing Malaysia Airlines flight 370.

Although satellite imagery has captured possible debris, it was the first time in 10 days of air searches that anything of interest had been spotted and raised hopes that the often bumbling and misdirected multinational search might actually be honing in on its elusive target.

Earlier in the day, Australia acknowledged that the search teams appeared to have been looking in the wrong place and moved the search area 680 miles to the northeast.

“Five aircraft spotted multiple objects of various colors during Friday’s search,” the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said in a statement late Friday.

“Photographic imagery of the objects was captured and will be assessed overnight. The objects cannot be verified or discounted as being from MH370 until they are relocated and recovered by ships.”

The agency said a New Zealand Air Force P-3 Orion had spotted a number of objects that were white and light-colored, while Australian planes had also seen “blue/grey rectangular objects” as well as some colorful floating objects in another area about 327 miles away.

A Chinese Maritime Administration patrol ship, Haixun 01, will attempt to retrieve the objects Saturday for closer inspection, the agency said.

The search location was changed after a new analysis of radar data from the South China Sea and Malacca Strait suggested the plane was moving faster than previously thought, and probably did not travel as far.

“It indicated that the aircraft was travelling faster than previously estimated, resulting in increased fuel usage and reducing the possible distance the aircraft travelled south into the Indian Ocean,” the Australian agency said earlier Friday.

The new search area is about 1,250 miles west of Perth, Australia, roughly 300 miles closer to land, allowing planes to spend more time over water searching. Weather conditions and currents are also less rugged there.

“This is the normal business of search and rescue,” said John Young, head of the maritime agency at a press conference on Friday in Canberra. “Refined analysis takes you to a different place. I don’t call the original work a waste of time.”

Flight 370 disappeared on March 8 during a red-eye flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing. The plane carried 239 passengers and crew. Investigators now believe the flight made virtually a 180-degree turn shortly after takeoff, heading southwest into the Indian Ocean. The pilots of the flights as well as passengers are under investigation in the still-unexplained rerouting of the plane.

Because of the three weeks that have elapsed, investigators believe the wreckage may have drifted over a wide swath of the South Indian Ocean.

“This is an extraordinarily difficult search, and an agonizing wait for family and friends of the passengers and crew,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Friday. “We owe it to them to follow every credible lead and to keep the public informed of significant new developments. That is what we are doing.”

The Australians said that 10 aircraft and five ships participated in Friday’s search.

The U.S. Navy said it was sending a second P8 Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft to help in the mission. Other aircraft are provided by Australia, China, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea.

AFP Photo/Malaysian Maritime Enforcement

Satellite Spots 122 Objects In Malaysia Jet Search Area

By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — Malaysian authorities said Wednesday they were encouraged by new satellite images provided by France showing 122 floating objects off the Australian coast that could be debris of the missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.

The discovery bolstered hopes of finding the wreckage in the choppy seas 1,500 miles southwest of Perth. Twelve airplanes, from the United States, Australia, China, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea, were being dispatched over the area in hopes of directing ships that might pick up the debris for analysis.

The latest satellite photos were provided by Airbus Defense and Space and were taken on Sunday. One object was 78 feet long — similar to debris spotted earlier on an Australian satellite — while others were brightly colored, possibly indicating they were life preservers or rafts.

“This is still the most credible lead that we have,” said Malaysia’s transportation minister, Hishamuddin Hussein, at a news conference Wednesday in Kuala Lumpur. “It corroborates that there is some form of debris. If we can confirm it came from MH 370, we can move on to the next phase of deep sea surveillance, search and rescue.”

“Hope against hope,” he added, a nod to Chinese families of passengers who have not accepted Malaysia’s conclusion that the Boeing 777 crashed into the southern Indian Ocean.

In Beijing, the increasingly militant families held a press conference outside the Lido Hotel where they are being accommodated, accusing the Malaysian government of concealing the truth about the plane which disappeared March 8 on a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.

“Malaysia Airlines tried to deceive people all over the world,” yelled 30-year-old Wang Zhen, whose parents were both passengers on the missing plane. “We hope we can expose the lies of Malaysia Airlines to the world and hope they can keep their promise soon.”

During a briefing with Malaysian ambassador to Beijing Iskandar Sarudin, families demanded that the Malaysian government retract its conclusion — announced Monday night by the prime minister — that the flight was lost and that there are no survivors.

The hysteria in China is being fueled in part by rumors circulating on microblogs that the flight is being held by hijackers and that Malaysia has refused to pay ransom.

Indirectly chastising the Chinese, Malaysia’s Hussein noted that Australian relatives were behaving in a manner that is “very rationale” and that “we in Malaysia also lost our loved ones.”

Australia is leading the multinational search effort for the missing plane.

“The crash zone is as close to nowhere as it’s possible to be, but it’s closer to Australia than anywhere else,” Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Wednesday.

He said he believed the debris spotted by satellites came from the missing plane. “Bad weather and inaccessibility has so far prevented any of it being recovered but we are confident that some will be.”

Xinhua/Zuma Press/MCT