60 Killed in China Explosion

Saturday, September 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BEIJING (AP) — A truck carrying explosives blew up in China's restive Muslim northwest, killing 60 people, injuring 173 others and scorching nearby vehicles and homes, officials and state media said Saturday.

The Xinhua News Agency reported the casualty count in the explosion Friday evening in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region, and officials with the city police and government confirmed the account. But they provided few details.

Investigators believe the explosion was an accident, although they have not ruled out terrorism, said an official with Xinjiang's foreign propaganda office, who gave only his surname, Zhang.

Police and paramilitary units cleared the wreckage through the night, sending the injured to at least four area hospitals, government and medical officials said.

Some among the 90 injured taken to the Coal Mining Hospital were permanently blinded or crippled by the explosion, said an emergency room administrator, surnamed Chen.

The explosion occurred around 5:30 p.m. on a major artery in the sprawling industrial city's western suburbs that was crowded with residents leaving work. Xinhua said the truck was taking the explosives for disposal when they detonated. It added that more than 20 vehicles and homes were damaged.

``I heard a boom and saw black smoke in the sky,'' said an employee at the Materials Transport Co., also surnamed Chen. He ran a mile from his office to the explosion.

He counted at least 50 people dead and saw the injured, too numerous to count, lying on the road and sidewalk. He said the truck that apparently carried the explosives was a military vehicle, although government officials refused to confirm the description.

Although police cordoned off the area for rescue work, the road was opened to vehicles and pedestrians by midmorning Saturday, Xinhua said.

Nearly 20 hours after the blast, Xinhua reported that 309 people were injured but later, citing local officials, revised the figure to 173. It gave no further reason for the discrepancy and did not say how many were seriously injured.

Explosives are widely available for construction in rapidly developing China and accidents are common. But Xinjiang is also the scene of the most violent internal threat faced by China's communist government.

Uighurs, Turkic Muslims who are the region's largest ethnic group, have long resisted Chinese rule. Since the mid-1990s, militant separatists have waged a campaign of bombings and assassinations against Chinese and suspected collaborators. China launched a crackdown in 1996 that has failed to quell the unrest.

Urumqi, a largely Chinese city, has seen few separatist attacks. But in one of the most coordinated acts of violent protest, militants set off bombs nearly simultaneously on three buses in Urumqi in February 1997, killing nine and injuring 68. A month later they blew up a bus in Beijing, injuring ten.