Riots in China’s Xinjiang ‘kill at least 12’

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Riots in the volatile Chinese region of Xinjiang left at least 12 people dead Tuesday, state news agency Xinhua reported, in the latest unrest to rock the country’s remote northwest.

The news agency said that “rioters” killed at least 10 people, and police then shot dead two of those involved in the violence in Yecheng county, Kashgar prefecture.

Xinhua said that “violent mobs” launched attacks at around 6:00 pm (1000 GMT) and police were now in pursuit of those involved in the violence.

The information could not be immediately independently verified.

Xinjiang — a vast region in China’s northwest that is home to around nine million mostly Muslim Uighurs who complain of oppression under Chinese rule — has been hit by sporadic bouts of violent unrest in the past few years.

Xinjiang authorities said last month they plan to recruit 8,000 extra police officers, as China strengthens security in the country’s volatile regions in the run-up to a major leadership transition later this year.

In July 2009, Xinjiang was hit by China’s worst ethnic violence in decades when Uighurs launched attacks on members of the country’s dominant Han group in the regional capital Urumqi.

The government says nearly 200 people were killed and 1,700 injured in the violence, which shattered the authoritarian Communist Party’s claims of harmony and unity among the country’s dozens of ethnic groups.

China threw a huge security clampdown on Xinjiang after the violence and many Uighurs are angry over the arrests or alleged disappearances of people rounded up across the region in the aftermath.

In December, seven people were killed in Pishan county in what the government described as a hostage rescue operation after “terrorists” kidnapped two people.

Exiles, however, said the incident was a conflict between regular Uighurs and policemen prompted by mounting discontent over a crackdown and religious repression in the area.

The region was also hit by three deadly attacks last July that left dozens dead.

The government blames much of the violence in the resource-rich region on extremism, separatism and terrorism but some experts doubt terror cells operate in Xinjiang, where Turkic-speaking Uighurs practise a moderate form of Islam.

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