Sixteen people are said to be killed in a clash in China’s Xinjiang region, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority, less than two months after a fiery attack in Tiananmen Square.
Above: the attack on Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in October
Police were attacked by a mob throwing explosive devices and wielding knives on Sunday when they went to arrest “criminal suspects” in a village near Kashgar in Xinjiang province, the government said on Monday.
“Police responded decisively,” the government said in a brief statement, adding that two people had also been detained and that an investigation had been launched.
At least nine civilians and two policemen were killed when a group of people armed with axes and knives attacked a police station also near Kashgar last month, state media has said.
Describing the incident, Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stopped short of directly blaming Islamist militants but said a “violent terror gang” attacked police with explosives.
“It once again showed the true face of violent terror. It should be condemned by all people who love peace and stability,” she told a daily news briefing.
“This conspiracy does not enjoy popular support and is doomed to failure.”
China has stepped up security in Xinjiang after a vehicle ploughed into tourists on the edge of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in October, killing the three people in the car and two bystanders.
China called the crash an attack carried out by Islamist militants from Xinjiang plotting holy war, and has reacted angrily to suggestions that it was because of frustration and anger over government repression of the region’s Muslims.
Many of Xinjiang’s Turkic-speaking, Muslim people chafe at restrictions on their culture, language and religion, although the government insists it grants them broad freedoms.
Xinjiang has been the scene of numerous incidents of unrest in recent years, which Beijing often blames on the separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement, even though many experts and rights groups cast doubt on its existence as a cohesive group.
Many rights groups say China has long overplayed the threat posed to justify its tough controls in energy-rich Xinjiang, which lies strategically on the borders of Central Asia, India and Pakistan.