Violence in Uighur area leaves 21 dead

AFP-JIJI

Twenty-one people, including police officers and social workers, were killed in violent clashes in China’s ethnically divided western region of Xinjiang, a local official said Wednesday.

“Twenty-one persons were killed in all . . . including social workers and policemen,” an official surnamed Cao from the provincial government’s news office said of Tuesday’s incident.

Gunfights broke out in Bachu County in the west of the province after police went to search the home of people suspected of possessing illegal knives, a report on Tianshan Net, a government-run news website, said.

It said 15 of those killed were either police or social workers, with 11 of them being members of the Uighur ethnic minority, who live mainly in Xinjiang and are mostly Muslim.

A further six “gang members” were shot dead in the violence, while eight more were arrested, the report said, without giving their identities. The local official, Cao, identified them as Uighurs.

The report said an investigation showed that the suspects had been plotting to carry out “terrorist activities” and branded the fighting a “violent terror incident.”

Xinjiang, a region about twice the size of Turkey, is home to around 9 million ethnic Uighurs, many of whom complain of religious and cultural repression by Chinese authorities. The region is regularly hit by unrest. China has repeatedly accused ethnic Uighurs of carrying out terrorist activities in the province.

But some experts say the Chinese government has produced little evidence of an organized terrorist threat and that the violence stems more from long-standing local resentment.