x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Riots in China's Uighur region leave 27 dead

Knife-wielding assailants attacked police and other people at a remote town in China's far western region in clashes that killed 27 people.

BEIJING // Knife-wielding assailants attacked police and other people at a remote town in China's far western region yesterday in clashes that killed 27 people.

The attack was one of the bloodiest incidents since unrest in the regional capital killed nearly 200 in 2009.

The early-morning violence - described by state media as riots - also left at least three people injured in the Turkic-speaking Xinjiang region, the Xinhua News Agency reported. Police stations, a government building and a construction site were targeted in the attacks.

Xinhua reported 17 people were killed, including nine policemen, before police shot and killed 10 of the assailants in Lukqun, a township in Turpan prefecture.

Xinjiang is home to a large population of minority Muslim Uighurs but is ruled by China's Han ethnic majority. The region borders Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan and has been the scene of numerous violent incidents in recent years, including the ethnic riots four years ago in Urumqi, the regional capital.

Xinhua did not provide details about the cause of the unrest and it was impossible to independently confirm the report. Information is tightly controlled in the region, which the Chinese government regards as highly sensitive and where it has imposed a heavy security presence to quell unrest. However, forces are spread thin across the vast territory and the response from authorities is often slow.

An official reached by phone at the press office of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau, the region's police, said she had only seen news of the violence on the internet and had no information. Other officials at the county's information department and police said they also had no details. Calls to the region's government spokeswoman, Hou Hanmin, rang unanswered.

Though it remained unclear what caused the violence, police stations, government offices and other symbols of Han Chinese authority have been targets of attacks in the past. The attack occurred at 6am, when most residents would still be asleep.

The report said three assailants were arrested, and that police pursued fleeing suspects, though it did not say how many. It said three people were injured by the unrest and were being treated.

An overseas Uighur activist said the conflict was triggered by the Chinese government's "sustained repression and provocation" of the Uighur community. Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, urged the international community to pressure China to "stop imposing policies in Xinjiang that cause turmoil".

China often accuses overseas Uighur activists of orchestrating violent incidents and obscure militant groups sometimes take responsibility, with little or no evidence to prove claims on either side.

* Associated Press