At least three hurt as blast destroys Beijing restaurant
Fri, Sep 25, 2009

BEIJING - An explosion destroyed a small restaurant in a busy section of Beijing early on Friday in an incident likely to further raise tensions in the capital ahead of October 1 National Day.

Police labelled the accident a gas explosion and state-run Xinhua news agency said it injured three employees of the restaurant and an unknown number of passers-by.

Residents said the restaurant featured specialties from China's northwestern Xinjiang region - the scene of deadly July riots by members of the Muslim Uighur minority that left nearly 200 people dead, according to the government.

The blast came amid a massive security clampdown in the Chinese capital to prevent disruptions to sensitive October 1 celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the founding of communist China.

The incident sent police swarming over the Xinjiekou area of central Beijing northwest of Tiananmen Square, sealing off nearby roads and pushing away onlookers.

Neighbourhood resident Sun Jia, 43, said she was awakened by the explosion shortly before 9:00 am (0100 GMT), and rushed from her home to see what had happened.

"I looked and I saw that the building was all crumbled and there was some smoke. And I saw a young man with blood all over the side of his head and one side of his body. It looked like his ear had been badly injured," she told AFP.

Sun said she did not see anyone else who had been hurt. The management of her residential building told her it was a gas explosion, she said.

Those hurt in the blast were taken to hospital but their injuries were not life-threatening, Xinhua said, citing unnamed sources.

The report said the number of passers-by who were injured was not immediately known.

"According to the initial  investigation, the explosion was an accident," a policewoman told AFP.

The building housing the restaurant had partially collapsed, an AFP reporter at the scene witnessed. The windows of adjacent businesses, and even some 100 metres (109 yards) away, were blown out or shattered.

"It was a Xinjiang restaurant. All I heard was one loud boom," said a man who runs a nearby convenience store.

Like many people in the area, however, he stopped talking to AFP as police quickly moved over to break up the interview. The blast came on the 60th anniversary of the "peaceful liberation" of Xinjiang by Chinese forces.

Xinjiang has long been a hotbed of unrest over claims by Uighurs - a central Asian minority - of Chinese religious, political and cultural repression.

In recent weeks, police in the regional capital of Urumqi, where the July unrest erupted, have reported hundreds of people stabbed with needles in a wave of attacks that victims blame on Uighurs.

Police kept hundreds of onlookers and a large number of reporters from gaining access to the blast scene in Beijing, where several diggers and bulldozers were quickly cleaning up debris.

Security has been ramped up in Beijing in recent weeks ahead of the National Day festivities but the city was put on edge by two stabbing incidents last week just south of Tiananmen Square that left two people dead and 15 injured.  

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