Kunming attack fires up Xinjiang Communist Party meeting

Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian jostled by journalists in Beijing on 6 March 2014 Zhang Chunxian (pictured centre right, wearing glasses) found himself jostled by journalists

Communist Party group meetings, the sessions in which delegates at the National People's Congress split up into their respective provincial teams to discuss the premier's opening speech, are not known for their charged atmosphere.

And, at first, the Xinjiang meeting did not look likely to challenge that perception.

There had though been hope that it might, and invited journalists had taken up every available seat.

The reason, of course, was last Saturday's attack on the southern city of Kunming.

Eight men and women, armed with swords and cleavers, left 29 people dead and 130 injured at the main train station.

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China has blamed separatists from Xinjiang.

But during the meeting there was very little mention of those events. There was a reference from a military general to maintaining social stability and a district party boss spoke about trying to spread "unified thought".

But most of the delegates spoke of other issues. For two hours the main themes were the economy, employment and education and, of course, how much they had enjoyed Premier Li Keqiang's speech.

Then it was time for journalists' questions.

The first, a Chinese journalist from a pro-Beijing publication, asked about improving people's lives in Xinjiang and the use of the internet as a communication tool.

The second, a reporter from state owned-TV, asked about the GDP figures for last year.

By now, the impatience of many in the press pack was becoming audible.

The Xinjiang finance official, in full flow, looked up crossly. "I have a duty to answer the question," he said.

'Crush the terrorists'

A Hong Kong-based journalist did then manage, finally, to get his question in, on the topic so many had hoped would be raised.

The chairman of the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, Nur Bekri, spoke about sinister forces lurking beyond China's border. The foreign influences that, he said, were trying to inflame anger and control Chinese people.

But then, with the final question taken up by a reporter from the China Daily, asking about rising living standards in Xinjiang, the meeting broke up.

Communist Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian found himself in the middle of a jostling, surging scrum, and was bombarded by questions.

Policemen check unclaimed luggage at a square outside the Kunming railway station after a knife attack, in Kunming, Yunnan province, on 2 March 2014 The attack in Kunming left 29 people dead and 130 injured at the main train station

Mr Zhang also spoke about the dangers of outside influences, in the form of radical videos posted on the internet that, he said, were leaking over the border.

And he denied that, as human rights group have long claimed, the authorities' heavy-handed approach in Xinjiang was in any way to blame.

"Terrorism is not a product of our crackdown," Zhang Chunxian replied. "It's only because of the measures we've taken, that we're able to contain it."

Xinjiang's party group meeting had become quite charged enough for one day.

Before the mob of journalists could crush him, Mr Zhang vowed to "crush the terrorists".

And elbowing and jostling their way through, the security guards helped him reach the door.

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