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China says plane diverted to Afghanistan by threat

Sunday, August 9, 2009 Leave a Comment

BEIJING – A plane scheduled to land in China's western region of Xinjiang that was rocked by ethnic riots last month was diverted to southern Afghanistan by a bomb threat, state media said Sunday.

Xinhua News Agency did not identify the airline or the type of plane, but said the airport in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi had been told to not to allow the plane to land.

Urumqi was the scene of the worst ethnic violence in China in decades when rioting killed 197 people and injured more than 1,700, according to official count.

Xinhua had earlier reported that the plane had been hijacked, but then said it had landed in Kandahar, Afghanistan, after a bomb threat.

However, a press officer for NATO forces in Afghanistan, which control the Kandahar airport, said the alliance had received no report of a plane forced to land there.

"I doubt that anything like that has taken place based on the information we have right now," U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Brian Naranjo said. "That's a significant activity. If something that significant happens we would know about it."

A Xinjiang regional government duty officer, who refused to give his name, said he had not received any information about the incident, while calls to the region's public security bureau rang unanswered.

Calls to the Urumqi airport's information counter also rang unanswered.

The government has said that Urumqi has slowly been returning to normal since the rioting erupted on July 5 after police stopped a protest by ethnic Uighur residents. The Uighurs went on a rampage, smashing windows, burning cars and beating Han Chinese — the nation's dominant ethnic group. Two days later, the Han took to the streets and attacked Uighurs.

The government said the violence was the work of terrorists, separatists and foreign forces as part of a plot to carve up China.

In early August, an Internet message purportedly from the leader of an Islamic group fighting Chinese rule in a western province urged Muslims worldwide to attack Chinese interests in retaliation for what it called the oppression of minority Uighurs.(AP)

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