SHANGHAI -- Authorities stepped up already heavy security in Urumqi -- the northwestern Chinese city torn by deadly ethnic riots in July -- after thousands of protesters took to the streets Thursday criticizing the government for failing to protect people after a recent spate of attacks by assailants wielding syringes.
"There are people everywhere," said one woman working near the city's central People's Square earlier in the day. "They are chanting: 'Down with Wang Lequan.'"
A brief report by the state-run Xinhua news agency late Thursday said "tens of thousands of people" had taken part in demonstrations at several locations in the city. "The overall situation is now calming," said the report.
A separate Xinhua report said police closed main roads in the center of the city late Thursday, citing cellphone text messages sent out by the government. The report said the protests had crippled traffic in Urumqi and forced shops to close. Xinhua didn't report any violence or injuries.
The demonstrations were an unusual public challenge at a sensitive time for China's political leadership, which has tightened security across the country ahead of celebrations for the 60th anniversary of Chinese Communist Party rule on Oct. 1.
Tensions have remained high in Urumqi, capital of China's Xinjiang region, since the July riots, which left nearly 200 people dead and more than 1,600 injured in the country's worst episode of ethnic violence in decades. The bloodshed began when Turkic-speaking and predominantly Muslim ethnic Uighurs went on a rampage against Han Chinese, killing more than 130. Revenge attacks by Han followed.