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China blames Xinjiang unrest on 'terrorists'

AFP , Monday 1 Aug 2011
Xinjiang
The ethnically-tensioned province of Xinjiang proves to be an unsolved dilemma on the Chinese domestic scene (Photo:Reuters)
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China on Monday blamed Muslim separatist "terrorists" for deadly unrest in its vast northwest region bordering Central Asia, while imposing heavy security in a bid to ensure no further unrest.

Nineteen people were killed in two separate incidents in the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar over the weekend in the latest wave of violence to hit the restive Xinjiang region, home to a mainly Muslim Uighur minority.

The Kashgar local government said in a statement on its website the assailants behind one attack that left six dead had learned explosive-making skills in terrorist-run camps in Pakistan.

"The heads of the group had learned skills of making explosives and firearms in overseas camps of the terrorist group East Turkestan Islamic Movement in Pakistan before entering Xinjiang," the online statement said.

The Chinese authorities have accused the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, (ETIM), which wants an independent homeland for Xinjiang's Uighurs, of orchestrating attacks in the region on many previous occasions.

The United States and the United Nations have listed the ETIM as a "terrorist" organisation.

Both Washington and Beijing say ETIM militants have received training and funding from Al-Qaeda, although some analysts dispute that.

Many of Xinjiang's eight million Turkic-speaking Uighurs are unhappy with what they say has been decades of political and religious repression, and the unwanted immigration of China's dominant Han ethnic group.

While standards of living have improved, Uighurs complain that most of the gains go to the Han.

This tension has triggered sporadic bouts of violence in Xinjiang, a resource-rich and strategically vital region bordering eight countries, including Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Sunday's restaurant attack came less than 24 hours after eight people were killed and more than 20 others hurt at a night market in Kashgar by two knife-wielding assailants, according to authorities.

Police also reportedly shot dead five attackers.

The Kashmir government statement did not mention the night market attack, but some state media reports on Monday blamed both incidents on "terrorists".

"These kinds of terror attacks have been increasing recently," the Global Times said in an editorial published in its English-language edition.

"Overseas extremists have been stirring up conflict between Uighur and Han Chinese while some Western media have shown sympathy for the terrorists. All these factors have contributed to the current discord."

The Global Times is known for its nationalist stance and is part of the same stable as the People's Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece.

Meanwhile, residents of Kashgar reported that the streets had reopened after a lockdown on Sunday, but remained quiet with a heavy police presence.

"The street is open, but there are not many people. Last night, just after the attack, shops were all closed," one shop owner who asked not to be named told AFP by phone.

"We are very worried, this is happening very often. The government should work harder to tackle these problems"

The weekend unrest came after more than 20 people were killed last month in a clash with police in the remote city of Hotan.

State media at the time quoted an official in Xinjiang calling the Hotan clash a "terrorist" attack, adding that four people were killed when a crowd set upon a police station.

But Uighur activists called it an outburst of anger by ordinary Uighurs and said security forces killed 20 people during the unrest.

In the nation's worst ethnic violence in decades, Uighurs savagely attacked Han Chinese in the regional capital Urumqi in July 2009 -- an incident that led to retaliatory attacks by Han on Uighurs several days later.

The government says around 200 people were killed and 1,700 injured in the violence, which further weakened the authoritarian Communist Party's claims of harmony among the country's dozens of ethnic groups.

In another high-profile bout of unrest before the Beijing Olympics, two men in Kashgar ploughed a truck into a group of jogging police officers and then launched machete attacks, killing 16. Chinese authorities blamed that attack on the ETIM.

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