Needle attacks shadow Xinjiang tourism; residents hope for return of order

Source: Xinhua [10:16 September 10 2009]

The string of needle stabbings which triggered unrest in Urumqi City had cast shadow on local tourism industry in China's far western Xinjiang region, a local official said Wednesday.

Tourism in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region was given one more hard hit by recent syringe stabbings in the regional capital of Urumqi while the local industry was recovering from the July 5 riot, which killed nearly 200 people, mostly ethnic Han, said Chi Chongqing, Communist Party chief of the regional tourism administration.

The region witnessed a brief recovery of tourism in August due to government subsidies after the riot, Chi said.

The average occupancy rate at star-rated hotels in Xinjiang had climbed to 85 percent before needle attacks caused public panic and triggered mass protests that demanded security guarantees.

The protests left five dead and 14 others in hospital.

The occupancy rate, however, plunged to around 25 percent after the renewed tensions in the city, Chi said.

A total of 76 tourist groups have canceled planned trips to Xinjiang, involving 3,358 would-be travelers, in the month to Sept. 8, he noted.


Yinamu Nesirdin, head of the regional tourism administration, said planned campaigns to boost tourism included an international poplar festival focusing on the Gobi landscape featuring the drought-enduring, diversiform leaved trees, and also on local sweet melon tastings.

Among other events were international photography festivals, a cultural festival in the Silk Road city of Qiuci, and a string of ice and snow festivals in Altay, Kanas and Tianchi Lake.

Nesirdin said the number of average daily visits received by major tourist destinations in Xinjiang plunged to 300 to 600 from pre-riot levels of 3,000-5,000.

To revive the tourism industry after the Urumqi riot, the regional government allocated 5 million yuan (730,000 US dollars) to subsidize travel agencies who arranged tourist groups to Xinjiang from July 6 to Aug. 31.

Xinjiang's tourism administration has signed a contract with its counterpart in eastern Fujian Province to invite 10,000 tourists from the coastal area to visit the northwestern region in October.

On Sunday, the first large tourist group from southeastern Asia to visit the area since the riot began an 11-day tour in Xinjiang. The group of 76 from Singapore and Indonesia, was to visit Bole, Yining, Narat, Karamay and Kanas in the northern part of the inland autonomous region.

Chi said that the preferential policy might be extended to the end of October to give further boost to the tourism sector in the tourism peak season.


Residents in Urumqi were calling for the quick court hearings of syringe attackers and adequate government actions to restore a safe living environment.

The court should start hearings of the attackers as soon as possible and the government should take concrete measures to protect people's safety, officials in more than 110 of the city's residential communities were told.

The government had vowed severe punishments, including life sentences and death penalties, for attackers if their needle stabbings had grave consequences.

"We want to see the attackers sentenced. That will help the government to regain public trust," an official of a survey team working in the Tianshan District quoted many residents as saying.

The official, who declined to be named, said more than 7,600 local officials had been trying to conciliate residents infuriated by stabbings since mid August.

"Stability is most important. We're waiting to see criminals punished by legal means," said Hou Changwu, a retired man living near Qinghai Road.

The old man said police forces had been safeguarding the community recently, which made him feel safer.

"We can see the government has been trying to restore social order. We should trust the government and work together with it to maintain stability," said Zhang Junhua, who was waiting for a bus in Xinshi District.

"We believe the authorities are able to handle the legal prosecutions and court hearings, and properly deal with all kinds of social conflicts to rebuild peace and safety," said Ubri, a young Uygur teacher.

By Friday, local health and police authorities had confirmed 531 victims of hypodermic syringe stabbings, 171 of whom showed obvious signs of needle attacks.