BEIJING — China has banned pigeon flying and tightened airport security in the run-up to an international trade fair in Xinjiang after a series of deadly attacks in the restive region, state media said Tuesday.
A low-altitude no-fly zone over the provincial capital Urumqi also prohibits kites and hot-air balloons during the China-Eurasia Expo which begins Thursday, the official Xinhua news agency and local government said.
Airports in a dozen cities across China, including Beijing and Shanghai, have increased security checks for Urumqi-bound flights, requiring passengers to remove their belts and shoes, Xinhua and airport officials said.
The new measures reportedly caused lengthy queues, flight delays and even fights among frustrated passengers at Beijing Capital International Airport on Sunday.
Armed police are guarding the convention centre in Urumqi where leaders from China and neighbouring countries will meet, while an elite police counter-terrorism unit had been deployed to Kashgar and Hotan which were hit by the recent violence, Xinhua said.
"Security is paramount," Yu Xiudong, a senior member of the China-Eurasia Expo organising committee, was quoted saying.
"We should make meticulous preparations against all security emergencies to ensure a safe expo."
Xinjiang has seen several outbreaks of ethnic violence in recent years as the mainly Muslim Uighur minority bridles under what it regards as oppression by the government and the unwanted immigration of ethnic Han Chinese.
Tensions boiled over again in July when two knife attacks as well as clashes between ethnic Uighurs and police killed more than 40 people in the resource-rich and strategically vital region.
Officials and state media have blamed the unrest on "terrorists" but some experts say the government has produced little evidence of an organised terrorist threat, adding the violence stems more from long-standing local resentment.
In July 2009, China was hit by its worst ethnic violence in decades when Uighurs savagely attacked Han Chinese in Urumqi -- an incident that led to deadly reprisals by Han on Uighurs several days later.
The government said around 200 people were killed and 1,700 injured.
The trade convention in Urumqi will be held from September 1-5 and is expected to attract leaders from regional countries including Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari, who is due to arrive in China later Tuesday.