50 injured as blast rocks railway station in China's Xinjiang

50 injured as blast rocks railway station in China's Xinjiang

About 50 people were injured today when a powerful blast struck a railway station in Urumqi, the capital of China's Muslim-majority Xinjiang province, as President Xi Jinping wrapped up his first-ever visit to the troubled region during which he vowed to fight terrorism.

The explosion took place this evening at the exit of the south railway station of Urumqi. Ambulances and police cars rushed to the scene, state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

The blast was centred around some luggage left on the ground between the station exit and a public bus stop, it said.

About 50 people were injured by the explosion, The Beijing News said, citing local police.A local resident working at a nearby hostel told the South China Morning Post that the blast took place at around 7 pm outside the exit of the Urumqi south railway station after a train from Chengdu arrived.

"The blast was quite powerful and there were possibly deaths... Police have cordoned off the railway station and the railway services are likely to have been suspended," he said over the phone, requesting anonymity.

Pictures on Weibo, the Chinese Twitter, showed blood on suitcases and debris on the ground in front of the station.

One picture showed what appeared to be a small blast area near a police post, though it was unclear if there were any casualties in the photograph.

The explosion came just as President Xi wrapped up a tour of insurgency-hit Xinjiang province in which he spoke of plans to get tough on fighting terrorism.

People in the square in front of the railway station and nearby areas had been evacuated, it said, adding that police also evacuated people in surrounding areas.Police have cordoned off all entrances to the square of the station. Armed police have been deployed in the square, the Xinhua report said.

It was not immediately clear if it was a terrorist attack, but it certainly provokes memories of the killing spree at a crowded station in the southwestern city of Kunming in early March, a commentary in Xinhua said.

Resource-rich Xinjiang has witnessed a spurt in attacks by Islamic militants in recent years as province experienced ethnic tensions between native Uygur Muslims and Han Chinese settlers from other provinces.

After a brief closure, the station was reopened and passengers were seen re-entering the station with the guidance of armed police, Xinhua reported.

Xi, who also heads the military and the ruling Communist Party, said: "(We must) make terrorists become like rats scurrying across a street, with everybody shouting beat them".

During his visit to a military garrison today in Urumqi, Xi vowed to deploy a "strike-first" strategy against terrorism in Xinjiang in a bid to deter enemies and inspire people.

"The long-term stability of Xinjiang is vital to the whole country's reform, development and stability; to the country's unity, ethnic harmony and national security as well as to the great revival of the Chinese nation," Xi said in his meeting with local Party and government officials.

China's counter-terrorism operations will maintain high intensity and abide by laws, he said.

He also visited a mosque in Urumqi where he wore a Uygur Muslims cap and interacted with people.

"I believe Xinjiang's religious people are righteous. They are able to take the right stance and have the initiative to contribute to the reform and development of the region and the country," he said.

He also instructed local government to focus economic development on improving people's lives and spend more resources on employment, alleviating poverty in rural areas and protecting the environment.

Xi promised to promote the right officials to the right positions and give them chances to display their abilities.

There will be favourable policies for officials working in Xinjiang, especially those at the grass-roots level, in terms of promotion, housing, allowances, and security for themselves and their families, he said.

"We must foster and promote more officials from ethnic minorities," Xi said.

"We should promote and trust those who have been proven to be upright, loyal to the Party and competent."

Xi visited an armed police team in Kashgar, the border town close to Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), on Sunday where he acknowledged the complicated situation and the hardship the soldiers have endured.

Kashgar bore the brunt of attacks of Islamists as the security situation became tenuous with increasing tensions between Uygurs and Han settlers.

Thirty-three people were killed 143 injured in knife attacks by a group of militants on passengers at Kunming Railway station on March 1.

Xinjiang intercity railway lines linking Urumqi with Kuytun, Shihezi, Karamay cities are expected to start operations in the station tomorrow. 

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