Gunfire shatters Urumqi calm

URUMQI: Security forces fired gunshots in a Muslim Uighur district of China's restive Urumqi city on Monday, residents of the neighbourhood told AFP.

The gunshots were fired after a group of at least three Uighurs approached soldiers armed with knives and poles, according to two Uighur men who said they witnessed the incident from about 50 metres (yards) away.

The men said soldiers fired at the attacking group. AFP could not immediately verify their account.

"They hacked at the soldiers with big knives and then they were shot," one of the men said.

Many other residents reported hearing gunfire.

"I heard what sounded like 10 gunshots and then several louder booms. Then we saw a lot of people running," said a Uighur doctor who works in the area.

Hundreds of riot police and other security forces blocked off the area where the incident occurred, according to an AFP reporter who arrived at the scene shortly after the gunshots were heard on Monday afternoon.

The area had been open to traffic a few hours earlier, the reporter said. Earlier in the day, the streets of the city had begun to fill up with cars.

Shops and restaurants that had been open earlier in the day were shuttered following the latest gunshots.

Some security personnel were standing in groups of five or six with their backs turned to each other and holding their semi-automatic weapons, in a formation that appeared to be aimed at fending off attacks.

Others were carrying semi-automatic weapons with bayonets attached.

One member of the riot police force, holding a semi-automatic weapon, told an AFP reporter to leave the area.

"Please go away from here, it is dangerous here," he told AFP.

Protests by Uighurs in Urumqi on July 5 descended into violence that left 184 people dead and 1,680 injured, according to the government.

The initial unrest saw Uighurs attack Han Chinese, according to the government and witnesses interviewed by AFP, in the worst ethnic violence to hit the country in decades.

Thousands of Han Chinese retaliated in the days following the initial violence, arming themselves with makeshift weapons and marching through parts of Urumqi vowing vengeance against the Uighurs.

The latest incident came despite heavy security on the streets of Urumqi on Monday, and after several days without any reported outbreaks of violence.

A spokesman with the Xinjiang government's media office said he was not aware of the latest incident.

"We didn't receive any information on this," he told AFP.