China police seek eight in connection with Tiananmen car crash

Reuters

By Megha Rajagopalan

BEIJING, Oct 30 (Reuters) - Chinese police were scouringhotels in Beijing on Wednesday for eight people wanted inconnection with the crash of an SUV at Beijing's TiananmenSquare, which authorities suspect may have been a suicide attackby people from the Xinjiang region.

A security guard at a guesthouse in Beijing that is owned bythe local government of Karamay city in Xinjiang said the hotelhad received a list of eight suspects to watch for.

Xinjiang, in the far west, is home to China's Uighur Muslimminority and borders the Central Asian states of the formerSoviet Union as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Another employee at the guesthouse said police sent a noticeto them on Tuesday, saying staff should be "cautious aboutUighurs who check in at our hotel."

In Monday's crash, three people from Xinjiang are suspectedto have driven the sport utility vehicle into a crowd ofbystanders at Tiananmen Square, the iconic heart of the Chinesestate, and set it on fire, two senior sources have told Reuters.

The three occupants and two tourists were killed and atleast 38 people were injured, in what could be the first majorsuicide attack in China.

China has not said officially whether the incident was anattack or an accident.

Two hotels contacted by Reuters said authorities were alsosearching for five vehicles in connection with the suspects.They are also searching for a red motorcycle.

Beijing police did not reply to a faxed request for comment.

China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged people not to jumpto conclusions when asked if the government believed that theTiananmen crash was an attack carried out by Xinjiangextremists.

"Relevant departments are carrying out an investigation,"said Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying. ""We ought towait for the results of the probe to come out."

A Chinese state newspaper reported in July that thegovernment suspected Syrian opposition forces were trainingextremists from Xinjiang to carry out attacks in China.

Uighur activists have long criticised the Chinese governmentfor repressing their language and culture, and say that theyhave been cut off from much of the economic investment in theoil and gas industry in their resource-rich home region.

"There has been an acceleration of Uighur unrest, and mostof it stems from Chinese policy," said Michael Clarke, aprofessor at Griffith University in Australia who has studiedthe history and politics of Xinjiang. "The extension of economicmodernisation to Xinjiang has gone hand in hand withmarginalisation of the Uighurs."

"There really needs to be a reassessment of China's approachto Xinjiang," he added.

Uighur activists have said they fear the government willtake advantage of the incident to inflict even more repressivepolicies on Uighurs all over the country.

"They have not stopped to investigate and find out the realtruth of what happened," said Ilham Tohti, a Beijing-basedUighur economist and longtime critic of Chinese policy inXinjiang. "Why is it that it has already been decided, in themedia and by the public, that this is an act of terrorism byUighurs?"

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