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Massive Investment to Modernize Slum Areas

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 Massive investment to modernize slum areas 

 A worker levels concrete at a construction site in a slum area in Urumqi, capital city of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, on April 16. [Xinhua]

China is accelerating its efforts to tear down brick-and-mud makeshift houses and replace them with modern concrete apartments in the slum areas of the northwestern city Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

About 15,000 households in 50 slum areas will be covered by the government-funded project this year, officials said.

The sprawling slum areas are home to around 250,000 people, mostly from the Uygur ethnic group, and are considered to be the breeding ground for the resentment that underpinned the deadly riots that rocked the city two years ago.

Officials say the slum overhaul is a social development priority. 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, said Li Liping, deputy director of Xinjiang's housing and urban-and-rural development bureau.

Zeng Ying, 70, said 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 said.

Urumqi has a population of around 3 million, with a significant proportion belonging to ethnic groups, 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 improving community facilities, said Xie Min, deputy director of the city's construction committee.

The government has spent 3.6 billion yuan (US$554 million) in overhauling 19 slum clusters and resettling 6,259 households over the past year.

Yashan slum, once known as a "thug town" by local residents, is one of the slum areas that have been 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 said 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 of keeping track of the migrants in the slums.

A total of 197 people died and more than 1,700 were 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 large-scale aid packages to boost the economic and social development in Xinjiang. The country's policymakers believe the region's security threats can be stemmed if the root causes - poverty and lack of development - are addressed.

The central government has vowed to help Xinjiang achieve "leap-frog 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 the 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.

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