Associated Press

BEIJING: An explosion shook a railway station in China’s restive far-western region of Xinjiang, injuring many people as President Xi Jinping wrapped up a four-day visit to the area, state media said Wednesday.

Details and information on casualties were not immediately clear in the blast, which hit the station in the regional capital of Urumqi. Train services were suspended, but the station reopened two hours later under the watch of armed police, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The Beijing News said more than 50 people were injured.

A woman working at a convenience store near the train station said she heard a loud explosion shortly after 7 p.m.

“The whole area now has been cordoned off by police and military police,” said the woman, who spoke by telephone and refused to give her name because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Photos circulating briefly on Chinese social media sites showed scattered luggage near the station’s exit and a heavy presence of armed men. Xinhua said the blast was centered on some luggage left on the ground between the station’s exit and a bus stop.

Ethnic tensions have been simmering for years in Xinjiang, the home of the Muslim Uighur minority group. In 2009, a series of riots broke out in Urumqi, leaving nearly 200 people dead, according to official figures. Despite a heavy crackdown, violence has continued in the region and began spreading elsewhere last year.

Three Uighurs rammed a vehicle into crowds in a suicide attack near the Forbidden City gate in the heart of Beijing last year, killing themselves and two tourists.

In March, five knife-wielding men and women believed to be Uighurs slashed at crowds indiscriminately at a railway station in southwestern China, killing 29 people. Beijing has blamed the attack on secession-seeking terrorists.

While Beijing faults separatists for raising ethnic tensions, government critics say restrictive and discriminatory policies and practices have alienated the Uighurs. They say Han people have flooded Xinjiang and benefited from its economic growth while Uighurs have felt excluded.

During his visit to the region, President Xi urged government officials to maintain social stability, promote growth, improve living standards and strengthen ethnic unity, according to state media reports.

Xi’s visit dominated state broadcaster CCTV’s evening news program Wednesday. It showed him shaking hands with police in helmets and bulletproof vests and inspecting shields and weapons used to quell riots.

“The long-term stability of Xinjiang is vital to the whole country’s reform, development and stability,” Xinhua quoted Xi as telling officials.

Xi said China would deploy a “strike-first strategy” in its fight against terrorism, Xinhua reported.