Khamis, 22 Mei 2014

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The Star Online: World Updates

Chinese state media says five suicide bombers carried out Xinjiang attack

Posted: 22 May 2014 09:40 PM PDT

URUMQI - Five suicide bombers carried out the attack which killed 31 people in the capital of China's troubled Xinjiang region, state media reported a day after the deadliest terrorist attack to date in the region.

The incident, which occurred in Urumqi on Thursday morning, was the second suicide attack in the capital in just over three weeks. A bomb and knife attack at an Urumqi train station in late April killed one bystander and wounded 79.

The government blames Islamists and separatists for the worsening violence in Xinjiang, the resource-rich western region bordering central Asia. At least 180 people have been killed in attacks across China.

The attackers ploughed two vehicles into an open market in Urumqi and hurled explosives. Many of the 94 people wounded were elderly shoppers, according to witnesses.

"Five suspects who participated in the violent terrorist attack blew themselves up," the Global Times, a tabloid run by the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, reported on Friday.

The newspaper said authorities "are investigating whether there were other accomplices".

Exiles and many rights groups say the real cause of the unrest in Xinjiang is China's heavy-handed policies, including curbs on Islam and the culture and language of ethnic Uighurs, a Turkic speaking Muslim people.

The Uighurs have long complained of official discrimination in favour of the Han people, China's majority ethnic group.

Residents said the morning market, where the attack occurred, was predominantly frequented by Han Chinese customers, though many of the vendors are Uighurs.

A Han Chinese man, surnamed Zheng, said he had left the market just 20 minutes before the attack occurred. He said after he heard the blast, he rushed back to see plumes of black smoke rising into the sky and people running away.

"How are people supposed to live life when you can't even go to buy vegetables? It's so terrible," he told Reuters. "That is what the terrorists are after. They want to have a political impact, so they target large groups."

"I just got here, but if I had the means, I'd consider leaving Urumqi for someplace safer," Zheng said, adding that other morning markets were also closed.

China has been grappling with a rise in suicide attacks. A car burst into flames at the edge of Beijing's Tiananmen Square in October, killing five people.

"It looks like (the Chinese authorities) have a metastasizing domestic terrorism problem," Kenneth Lieberthal, a China expert with the Brookings Institution, told Reuters.

"I think the evidence suggests to date that if anything, the rethink (on Xinjiang policy) will be to get tougher."

Pan Zhiping, a retired expert on Central Asia at Xinjiang's Academy of Social Science, said Thursday's attack was the deadliest ever in the region.

He said that the government needs to step up its efforts on intelligence gathering. He said the "terrorists" received training overseas from groups like the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) and gained combat experience in Syria.

"They are now definitely organised and these small organisations are very tight," Pan said. "If it's not possible to crack a small organisation, then I think this kind of thing will continue to happen."

Chinese police blamed the ETIM for the Urumqi train station attack last month, state news agency Xinhua said on Sunday, the first time the separatists have been directly linked to the assault.

The ETIM has been accused by the United States and China of having ties to al Qaeda, but there is disagreement among security experts over the nature of the group and whether ties with al Qaeda and other militant organisations really exist.

No group has claimed responsibility for Thursday's attack.

The top official in Xinjiang, Zhang Chunxian, has called for all forces to be mobilised to find the perpetrators, vowing to "crush the swollen arrogance of terrorists", the Xinjiang government said on its official news website.

(Additional reporting by Li Hui and Sui-Lee Wee in BEIJING and James Pomfret in HONG KONG, Writing by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Indian consulate in west Afghanistan under attack, officials say

Posted: 22 May 2014 09:25 PM PDT

HERAT Afghanistan (Reuters) - Four heavily armed insurgents attacked the Indian consulate in western Afghanistan's main city near the border with Iran on Friday, wounding at least two policemen, officials said.

The attack underscored a worrying security picture as Afghanistan prepares to take over from foreign combat troops after 12 years of war and prepares for a presidential election run-off next month.

Herat police chief General Samihullah Qatra told Reuters at least one suicide bomber was shot by police and three were still fighting.

"Four Taliban have entered residential houses close to the consulate, shooting towards the Indian consulate compound," Qatra said. "Police have already evacuated civilians from houses and now fighting is ongoing," he said.

It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack and no claims of responsibility have been made so far, although the Taliban often carry out such attacks on Afghan and international targets around the country.

The attack began before dawn and was still going several hours later, officials said.

(Reporting by Jalil Ahmad; Writing by Mirwais Harooni; Editing by Paul Tait)

Thai generals summon ousted PM for talks a day after coup

Posted: 22 May 2014 09:00 PM PDT

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thailand's military leaders summoned ousted Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra to a meeting on Friday, a day after army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha seized power in a bloodless coup and said he wanted to restore order following months of turmoil.

General Prayuth launched his coup after the various factions refused to give ground in a struggle for power between the royalist establishment and a populist government that had raised fears of serious violence and damaged Thailand's economy.

Soldiers detained politicians from both sides when Prayuth announced the military takeover, which drew swift international condemnation, after talks he was presiding over broke down.

Leaders of pro- and anti-government protest groups were still believed to be in detention on Friday, an opposition lawmaker said, declining to be named.

The military censored the media, dispersed rival protesters in Bangkok and imposed a nationwide 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew.

It has summoned Yingluck and 22 associates, including powerful relatives and ministers in her government, to a meeting at an army facility at 10 a.m. (0300 GMT) on Friday.

Yingluck is the sister of Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire telecommunications tycoon turned politician who won huge support among the poor but the loathing of the royalist establishment, largely over accusations of corruption and nepotism. He was ousted as premier in a military coup in 2006.

Aides to Yingluck had arrived at the army facility by mid-morning and she was expected to follow.

Prayuth himself may not be present. He was expected to meet King Bhumibol Adulyadej on Friday at the royal palace in Hua Hin, in the south of the country, to explain the army's move.

Yingluck was forced to step down as prime minister by a court on May 7 but her caretaker government, buffeted by more than six months of protests, had remained nominally in power, even after the army declared martial law on Tuesday.

Any meeting could set the tone for army rule as Prayuth tries to steer the country out of crisis and fend off international criticism of the latest lurch into military rule.


Bangkok has remained calm and activity appeared to be relatively normal on Friday, although the military has ordered all schools and universities to stay closed.

Public transport was running after the curfew ended and early traffic was light, but cars were moving slowly on some roads into the capital because of army checkpoints.

Regular television schedules were suspended with all stations running the same news programme, featuring content from Channel 5, the army's own channel.

It showed pictures of the areas, now cleared, that had been taken over in and around Bangkok by various political groups since anti-government protests flared up last November.

Other footage showed people going about their business normally in cities around the country. Some were interviewed, saying they welcomed the coup.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said there was no justification for the coup, which would have "negative implications" for ties with its ally, especially military ones.

"The path forward for Thailand must include early elections that reflect the will of the people," Kerry said in a statement.

He also called for the release of detained politicians.

There was also condemnation from France, the European Union and the United Nations human rights office. Japan said the coup was regrettable and Australia said it was "gravely concerned."

Prayuth is a member of the royalist establishment generally seen as hostile to the Shinawatras, although he has tried for months to keep the army out of the political strife and to appear even-handed.

He enjoyed cordial relations with Yingluck after she took office following a landslide election victory in mid-2011 but is regarded warily by some Thaksin supporters.

The army chief, who is 60 and due to retire later this year, has taken over the powers of prime minister but it was not clear if he intended to stay in the position.


The anti-Thaksin protesters had demanded electoral changes that would end the Shinawatras' success at the ballot box. Thaksin or his parties have won every election since 2001.

Thaksin's "red shirt" supporters were dismayed and angry but said they had no immediate plans for protests that they had threatened in response to any army takeover. Those who had been protesting in Bangkok dispersed peacefully after the coup.

Protests would be a major test for Prayuth, who commands an army known to contain some Thaksin sympathisers.

In 2010, more than 90 people were killed in clashes, most when the army broke up protests against a pro-establishment government that had taken office after a pro-Thaksin administration was removed by the courts in 2008.

Weary investors have generally taken Thailand's upheavals in their stride and the baht was slightly firmer in early trade at around 32.50 per dollar. It had weakened to 32.70 in offshore trade after the coup.

The stock market fell 2 percent in early trade after ending 0.2 percent higher on Thursday before the coup news. Local investors had taken the view that the martial law imposed on Tuesday might bring some stability to the country.

Thailand's economy contracted 2.1 percent in the first quarter of 2014 from the previous three months, largely because of the prolonged unrest, which has frightened off tourists and dented confidence, bringing fears of recession.

(Additional reporting by Apornrath Phoonphongphiphat and Bangkok bureau; Writing by Robert Birsel and Alan Raybould; Editing by Alex Richardson)


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