|Urumqi's sweeping slum makeover gathers steam|
URUMQI, May 16 (Xinhua) -- China is upping its efforts to tear down mud-and-brick makeshift houses and replace them with modern concrete apartments in slum areas of the northwestern city Urumqi.
The sprawling slum areas are home to 250,000 people, mostly ethnic Uygurs, in the capital city of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and are considered the breeding ground for the resentment which underpinned the deadly riots that rocked the city two years ago.
About 15,000 households in 50 slum areas will be covered by the government-funded project this year, officials say.
Urumqi has a population of around 3 million, with a significant presence of ethnic minorities, according to the latest census.
All of the city's 234 slum areas will be demolished and rebuilt by 2012 and the government will spend another two years to improve community facilities, says Xie Min, deputy director of Urumqi's construction committee.
Xie says the overhaul is getting into full swing as the weather warms up.
The government has spent 3.6 billion yuan (554 million U.S. dollars) in overhauling 19 slum clusters to resettle 6,259 households over the past year.
Yashan slum, once known as a "thug town" by local residents, is one of the many slum areas torn down by the government. Rows of six-floor concrete apartment buildings have replaced shacks and hovels. A clinic, kindergarten, and activity center have also been built in the area.
Visitors to Yashan Park have increased as they feel it is safer now that the nearby slum has been cleaned up.
Officials say Yashan and Heijiashan, another notorious slum, were inhabited by large numbers of jobless and low-income young migrants from poorer parts of Xinjiang. Police have often complained of the difficulty keeping track of the migrants in the slums.
A total of 197 people died with more than 1,700 injured in the riots which erupted in Urumqi on July 5, 2009.
After restoring order in the wake of the riots, Beijing rolled out a series of aid packages of rarely-seen size to boost the economic and social development in Xinjiang. The country's policy makers believe the restive region's security threats can be stemmed if the root causes -- poverty and lack of development -- are addressed.
The central government vowed to help Xinjiang achieve "frog-leap development and lasting stability" in five years, with its per capita GDP meeting China's average by 2015. In particular, the resource-rich region has introduced resource tax reforms to boost local government's revenue to allow it to expand social spending -- creating jobs, raising retirees' pensions and minimum living allowances, and expanding the coverage of the rural pension.
Officials say the slum overhaul is among the priority social development projects.
The government aims to construct 340,000 subsidized apartments this year to accommodate low-income families including 110,000 households who reside in slums and shanty towns across Xinjiang, says Li Liping, deputy director of Xinjiang's housing and urban-and-rural development bureau.
Zeng Ying, 70, says he is happy to move out of his squatter house in Heijiashan where he has lived for three decades. "It is small, crowded, and inconvenient," he says.