Explosion doesn't daunt shoppers Beijing police deny reports of fatalities, say 10 were injured

March 09, 1997|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BEIJING -- On North Xidan Street, the crowds of shoppers were as thick as ever yesterday, and the talk of the afternoon was the explosion that ripped through a public bus here on Friday evening, seriously injuring at least 10 people.

State-run Beijing Television quoted the police yesterday as saying that the explosion was caused by a homemade bomb. But not many people seemed to cut back on the city's favorite Saturday pastime: shopping.

The Beijing Daily reported yesterday that 10 people were injured by the explosion, and none killed. A police spokeswoman insisted that no one had died, though the Reuters news agency reported that two people were killed.

Beijing television said that the police investigation "showed the explosive was planted beside the left-hand seats three and four rows from the front of the bus," adding that a reward had been offered for information that could help lead to the arrest of the bombers.

The police sought anyone who had ridden on the bus just prior to the explosion.

Witnesses reported seeing a momentary flash inside the No. 22 bus before window glass shattered outward and victims poured off the bus, many of them burned. One witness said she saw about two dozen people injured and taken for medical treatment.

Even though robbery and other crimes have become more prevalent in recent years, many Beijing residents consider their city relatively safe, particularly compared with cities in the United States, because it is still difficult to obtain weapons here, and because penalties for being caught are severe.

Few law enforcement officials are permitted to carry a gun, and virtually no private citizens are.

One exception is for members of China's armed forces, and incidents of military officials' brandishing a weapon in public to avoid paying a restaurant or taxi bill are not uncommon.

Because the blast Friday resembled three similar explosions on public buses that occurred on Feb. 25 in Urumqi, the capital of the Muslim-dominated region of Xinjiang in western China, there is wide suspicion that this explosion is similarly the work of advocates of independence for that region.

Beijing was already under heightened security because the National People's Congress, China's legislature, is in the middle of its two-week annual session. Yesterday, uniformed police were posted throughout the Xidan area and at many bus stops.

Wu Weidong, a shirt salesman in a nearby department store, said: "Society is not so stable anymore, so there are going to be problems. But I never thought we'd have a bomb right outside the store."

Pub Date: 3/09/97

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