China on Thursday pledged to deal 'separatist forces' in the restive Xinjiang province with 'iron fists', as the region observed the third anniversary of the deadly ethnic riots that claimed nearly 200 lives.
Among the steps announced to boost security, authorities placed new restrictions on disabled persons travelling by air following a hijacking bid last week by Uygur militants using a broken crutch.
Zhang Chunxian, secretary of the Xinjiang committee of the ruling Communist Party of China, asked the soldiers to be vigilant against all sorts of hostile forces and to strike 'three forces' -- a term for separatists, extremists and terrorists -- with 'iron fists'.
"We should leave terrorists no place to hide," Zhang was quoted as saying by the state media in Beijing on Thursday. The warning comes on the anniversary of deadly ethnic riots that saw almost 200 people killed on July 5, 2009.
Rights group Amnesty International has accused China of intimidating the ethnic Uygur minority. The official said Xinjiang's overall situation remains stable but faces "severe challenges".
Soldiers practiced hostage-rescue and disposal of explosives in a drill.
Xinjiang has gradually recovered from the deadly riots, the worst outbreak of violence in decades. AI meanwhile said that Chinese authorities 'continue to silence those speaking out on abuses' in the region.
"The general trend toward repression that we see all over China is particularly pronounced in Xinjiang," Catherine Baber, AI Asia-Pacific director, said in a statement.
She urged the Chinese government to reveal the whereabouts of those who have disappeared and end the persecution of family members seeking answers. Official media reports here said that two men of the six member who tried the hijacking died. Ten people were injured in the incident.
The hijacking was foiled by crew and passengers. Meanwhile the airports in the region announced the new measures to strengthen the security. All 16 airports in Xinjiang have raised security check levels, a spokesman of Xinjiang Airport Group Co Ltd, the regional airport operator said.
Passengers need to have all their take-on bottles and most of their baggage opened for inspection, state-run news agency Xinhua reported.
The disabled should present hospital-issued disability certificates if they want to bring crutches or other mobility aids on board the plane.Passengers at Kashgar Airport, in southern Xinjiang near Hotan, must check their crutches and wheelchairs in as baggage. The airport will provide them with mobility aids to help them get on board, an airport official said.