Crackdown on ‘separatists’ in western China

Increase in police patrols follows unrest in heavily ethnic Uighur desert city Hotan

Armed paramilitary policemen run in formation during a gathering to mobilise security operations in Urumqi, Xinjiang. Photograph: Reuters

Armed paramilitary policemen run in formation during a gathering to mobilise security operations in Urumqi, Xinjiang. Photograph: Reuters

Mon, Jul 1, 2013, 01:00

Chinese paramilitary police have stepped up patrols in the ethnically riven western region of Xinjiang after clashes in recent months which have killed at least 56 people.

More than 100 people, many carrying knives and riding motorcycles, attacked a police station in the remote desert city of Hotan, a heavily ethnic Uighur area. The incident came days after the region’s deadliest unrest in four years, which resulted in the deaths of 35 people in Lukqun, in Turpan Prefecture.

Photographs on online social networks showed military trucks with riot police patrolling Hotan. Xinjiang’s eight million Uighurs are a Turkic Muslim ethnic group with close linguistic and cultural links to central Asia.

July 5th marks the anniversary of a 2009 riot between Uighurs and Han Chinese migrants in Urumqi, the provincial capital, that left nearly 200 people dead.

Uighurs account for 46 per cent of the population of Xinjiang. They feel overwhelmed by Han Chinese influence, a migration they describe as cultural imperialism driven by Beijing. Han Chinese make up 39 per cent of the population, and that figure is growing.

China says it grants Uighurs wide-ranging freedoms, and is bringing economic advances to the region. It accuses extremists of separatism.

The central government labelled the latest incident a “terrorist attack”. Communist Party leaders, the standing committee of the Politburo, meeting in Beijing, vowed to “safeguard social stability and the interests of the people in Xinjiang”, the Xinhua news agency reported.

‘terrorist groups’
“We will step up action to crack down on terrorist groups, extremist organisations and track down the wanted,” Yu Zhengsheng, a Politburo member, told a meeting of regional leaders in Urumqi.

“Xinjiang has achieved sound economic development in recent years, but separatists in and outside the country have been escalating efforts and those deep-seated problems challenging Xinjiang’s social stability have not been completely solved.”

In Hotan, “troublemakers” gathered at mosques before heading off on motorbikes to attack a police station, the state-owned Global Times reported. In a separate incident in the same city, some 200 people attempted to “incite trouble” at a shopping area, the paper said. It said police defused the situation.