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Premier visits blizzard-hit Xinjiang, promising relief measures

URUMQI, Jan. 25 (Xinhua) -- Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao has promised to take effective measures to help people through the worst snow in Xinjiang in six decades, said a statement from the State Council General Office Monday.

Wen visited Altay and Tacheng, two regions in northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, on Saturday and Sunday, the statement said.

"The Spring Festival (China's Lunar New Year holiday) is drawing near. We must implement well relief measures and make sure that people in blizzard-hit regions will have a peaceful and happy festival," said the Premier at a meeting with Xinjiang officials on Saturday evening.

The central government would provide more support to affected regions, including funds and relief materials, he said.

"The focus of our work is to maintain people's livelihoods, agriculture and animal husbandry operations, supplies of commodities and transport services."

On Saturday afternoon, after five hours of flying, the Premier arrived at Altay in northern Xinjiang and then visited a Kazak village in the suburbs of Altay.

The temperature fell to 26 degrees below zero and snow was piled up more than one meter high along the village path when he reached the house of Kazak shepherd Zhumashi.

Zhumashi told the Premier that his fodder reserve would only last till March and the cattle would not move to the summer range until May.

Wen instructed the local officials to speed up transport of fodder from farming regions that were less affected by the weather.

The government would offer subsidies and provide discount loans for shepherds, and would continue assistance into the spring, he said.

"We are fully capable of overcoming the difficulties we face," he said.

The news of Wen's arrival quickly spread in the village and many villagers joined in the talks at Zhumashi's home.

"The government has offered a lot of help. We will also try our best," Shihake, another villager in his 70s, told Wen. "Since you have come, we are more confident."

The latest cold snap left at least 11 people dead and more than 600 injured in the region by Jan. 23.

Wen's next stop was a shepherd settlement in Tacheng, another seriously affected region.

The settlement is home to about 1,000 formerly nomadic shepherd families who have settled down in the neighborhood with a school, clinic and veterinary service.

Visiting a family in the settlement, Wen learnt that their cattle were kept indoors and survived the cold.

Through such settlement projects, shepherds would be more capable of coping with natural disasters and have more access to education and other services. The government would continue working on these projects, he said.

Wen also visited people evacuated from the blizzard-hit regions and farmers whose farms were damaged by the storms.

In Toli county of Tacheng, he suggested shepherds could change their nomadic lifestyles to a fixed habitat so as to improve their livelihoods and the local government should fully exploit rich resources of wind and solar power.

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