Western countries issue rare Christmas security alerts for Beijing

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US, Other Countries Issue Warning to Westerners in Beijing

At least four Western countries took the unusual step on Thursday of issuing Christmas security warnings for Westerners in a popular Beijing diplomatic and entertainment district as police stepped up patrols.

Beijing is generally safe and criminals rarely target foreigners, although the fashionable Sanlitun bar and restaurant area occasionally sees fights. In August, a lone attacker stabbed a French man and a Chinese woman there. The woman died.

See more images from daily life in Beijing:

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NTP: China daily life, pollution in Beijing 2015
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Western countries issue rare Christmas security alerts for Beijing
A cyclist and vehicles drive past a steam emitted by a heating pipe underneath a street near a construction site shrouded by haze with air pollution in Beijing, China, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. Northern China typically burns coal to heat homes in the winter, a practice believed to have fouled the air. Emissions from industrial plants and the increasing use of cars also are major causes of air pollution in China. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
FILE - In this, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015, file photo, workers walk past a billboard display showing a scene of the Central Business District, as capital city skylines are shrouded with pollutant haze in Beijing, China. Heading into this month's Paris meeting, the world's biggest source of climate-changing gases has yet to accept binding limits. But it has invested in solar, wind and hydro power to clean up its smog-choked cities and curb surging demand for imported oil and gas. That contributed last year to a surprise fall in coal consumption. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)
A delivery man rides an electric bike past a steam emitted by a heating pipe underneath a street near a construction site shrouded by haze with air pollution in Beijing, China, Monday, Nov. 9, 2015. Northern China typically burns coal to heat homes in the winter, a practice believed to have fouled the air. Emissions from industrial plants and the increasing use of cars also are major causes of air pollution in China. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
A man takes a nap on the back of his cart on a polluted day in Beijing, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. Air quality readings in the city on Tuesday were at levels considered hazardous by international measuring standards. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
A man on an electric cart carrying a load of Styrofoam drives past a construction site on a polluted day in Beijing, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. Air quality readings in the city on Tuesday were at levels considered hazardous by international measuring standards. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
A worker tosses boards onto the back of a truck at a construction site on a polluted day in Beijing, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. Air quality readings in the city on Tuesday were at levels considered hazardous by international measuring standards. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
Traffic drives along a roadway in the Beijing's central business district on a polluted day, with air quality readings at levels considered hazardous by international standards, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
A man on an electric cart carrying a load of styrofoam drives past the China Central Television (CCTV) headquarters building on a polluted day, with air quality readings at levels considered hazardous by international standards, in Beijing, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
A lost helium balloon rises above a construction site on a polluted day in Beijing, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. Air quality readings in the city on Tuesday were at levels considered hazardous by international measuring standards. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
A man wearing a mask to protect himself from pollutants runs past the office buildings shrouded with haze in Beijing Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. Chinese capital city was hit by thick pollution although municipal transport authorities marked three car-free zones on Tuesday as capital city braced for World Car Free Day. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
A worker tosses boards on the back of a truck at a construction site on a polluted day, with air quality readings at levels considered hazardous by international standards, in Beijing, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
A man on an electric cart carrying a load of styrofoam drives past a construction site on a polluted day, with air quality readings at levels considered hazardous by international standards, in Beijing, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)
A Chinese couple walk past a construction site at the Central Business District of Beijing on Tuesday, Sept. 22, 2015. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
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The U.S. Embassy said in a brief statement it had "received information of possible threats" against Westerners in Sanlitun, also home to many embassies, on or around Christmas Day, December 25.

The French Embassy, Britain's Foreign Office and Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs issued similar warnings. None of them elaborated.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said he was aware of the reports and that the government paid great attention to foreigners' safety.

Beijing police, in a statement on their official microblog, said they had issued a "yellow" security alert for Christmas and New Year, the second lowest level, focused on areas like malls, which are likely to see more people visiting during the festivities.

"Beijing police are planning ahead and taking many measures ... to ensure good public order," it said.

Christmas is not a holiday in officially atheist China, but more and more young people celebrate it as they view it as a sophisticated Western custom and excuse to give gifts.

A Reuters photographer saw police commandos with guns in front of Sanlitun's main mall. Regular police tend not to carry guns in China, and gun crime is in any case uncommon.

The city overall has been on much higher alert, with patrols by armed police in popular shopping and tourism sites, since a fatal car crash in 2013 at the top edge of Tiananmen Square in which five people died.

The government blamed that incident on Islamist militants from China's unruly far western region of Xinjiang, where hundreds have died in unrest in recent years.

While the violence has generally been limited to Xinjiang, last year at least 31 died in a knife attack at a station in China's southwestern city of Kunming, also blamed on militants from Xinjiang.

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