URUMQI, May 23- Jittery traders Friday set up their stalls near the scene of a market attack in the Muslim Uighur homeland of Xinjiang, after China‘s leader vowed to smash the “terrorists” responsible for the deaths of 31 people.
Washington condemned the “horrific terrorist attack” and UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon said “there is no justification for the killing of civilians”.
Assailants in two vehicles ploughed into shoppers and traders and threw explosives at a street market in Urumqi, the capital of the volatile region, on Thursday.
The devastating attack was described by authorities as the latest “severe terrorist incident” to hit the far western region, home to China‘s mainly Muslim Uighur minority.
President Xi Jinping pledged to “severely punish violent terrorists”, and “crack down on them with a heavy fist.”
More than 90 people were also wounded when the two off-road vehicles drove into the crowd, with one of them exploding, an incident with echoes of a fiery car crash in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square last year.
One local shopkeeper, who refused to be named, told AFP she saw desperate shoppers fleeing from the vehicles.
“They ran onto the pavement, but many couldn’t get away,” she said.
“The terrorists were trying to kill as many as they could, and they came here because they knew it would be crowded.”
Police erected a knee-high barrier at the end of the road early Friday, and elderly shoppers were restricted to patronising the supermarkets that line the street, rather than buying produce sold by the market traders who had previously set up stalls on the pavement.
The barrier was later taken down and traffic allowed through, with shoppers walking past groups of patrolling paramilitary police.
A vendor selling hot pancakes at the end of the road told AFP that they were worried about returning to the area, but had little choice.
“Of course we are frightened. I still remember vividly the sound of the explosions, but what else can I do,” said the woman surnamed Xie, as she moulded dough with her hands.
“We have three babies in our family. We cannot let terrorists stop us earning money which helps to support them.”
– ‘Good against evil’ –
China has seen a series of incidents in recent months targeting civilians, sometimes far from Xinjiang itself, which authorities have blamed on separatists from the vast and resource-rich region.
The Global Times newspaper reported Friday that five attackers died in Urumqi, adding it was unclear whether they were included in the toll, and police were investigating whether more accomplices were at large.
The Chinese Communist party’s mouthpiece newspaper the People’s Daily said the campaign against terrorism was “a battle of good against evil”.
“There is not an inch of room for compromise or concession… We must continue to be vigilant against terror, maintain a high-pressure crackdown, and protect social stability,” it said.
About 10 police vans were parked along the street where the attack took place, an AFP reporter on the scene witnessed.
Plain clothes security were also keeping a close watch on the area as they moved on slow moving or parked cars.
Foreign reporters were being turned away from the scene by police, while there was no sign of domestic journalists, who are often instructed to follow the reporting of official Chinese media on sensitive subjects.
Security was also tight at a nearby hospital where many of the injured were being cared for, with an armoured vehicle parked outside, surrounded by six paramilitary police holding rifles with fixed bayonets.
Critics of Beijing’s policies in Xinjiang say that tensions in the region are driven by cultural oppression, intrusive security measures and immigration by majority Han Chinese which have led to decades of discrimination and economic inequality.
Graphic images obtained by AFP showed scores of bodies lying in the road after Thursday’s carnage, amid pools of blood, scattered fruit and the twisted wreckage of a bicycle.
Some of the shoppers returning to the area on Friday said doing so was an act of defiance.
One elderly woman clutching a bag of spring onions told AFP: “Just because people come here and try to terrorise us, it does not mean I should have food which is not fresh.”