TWO fire engines stood parked by the road leading past Kashgar’s main mosque. They were clearly not deployed to fight any fires. Atop one sat a helmeted officer behind a shield. The nozzle of the vehicle’s water hose pointed to the junction where an alley leads into the maze-like old city of this ancient oasis town. An officer in camouflage uniform sat on the other vehicle. In a nearby government compound, several more security personnel could be seen wearing helmets and carrying shields, standing next to a line of armoured vehicles. They had not been there the day before. Read the article in The Economist’s Asia View blog here:
Kashgar is no stranger to security measures. It belongs to a part of China’s Xinjiang region that is periodically racked by separatist incidents, sometimes violent, involving members of the ethnic Uighur community. It has been particularly edgy in the past two or three years. An outbreak of deadly clashes between Uighurs and Han Chinese in 2009 in Urumqi, the provincial capital, has left the authorities uneasy.
But today the government perhaps had reason to be a little more jittery than usual. Calls had been circulating on the internet for Chinese to gather in central areas of 13 major cities (none in Xinjiang were named) on February 20th to stage a “jasmine revolution”—in reference to the upheavals that have are convulsing the Arab world. An unsourced posting to an American-based Chinese website, Boxun.com (in Chinese, and currently under a DDOS-style attack) seems to have started the flurry. Chinese authorities quickly moved to suppress it by blocking posts on microblogs that contain the word “jasmine”. They stepped up surveillance of several activists and deployed large numbers of police near central Beijing, apparently to pre-empt any protests.