Nearly 100 are killed in unrest in China

Ethnic strife persists despite government crackdown in west

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BEIJING -- It was a bloody week in China's far west, with nearly 100 people killed in unrest that the authorities have characterized as terrorism but that Uighur advocacy groups have said is a consequence of a sweeping security crackdown aimed at silencing opposition to the government's hard-line policies in the region.

The outbreak of violence in Xinjiang amid an overwhelming show of security appears to be the worst since 2009, when at least 200 people died during several days of ethnic rioting in the regional capital, Urumqi.

The state-run news media Sunday provided new details of the most serious episode, a clash last Monday in Yarkand County.

A report said that 35 ethnic Han Chinese had been killed and that 59 people described as terrorists had been shot dead by the police.

The report, published by Tianshan, a news portal run by the Xinjiang regional government, said two Uighurs also had been killed during what it described as a rampage by masked, knife-wielding assailants who attacked cars and passers-by in Yarkand, a predominantly Uighur municipality that sits astride the ancient Silk Road that once connected China to Central Asia and beyond.

In a separate episode, security forces in the nearby city of Hotan killed nine "terrorists" July 27, the official Xinhua news agency reported Friday.

It was unclear why the authorities had waited nearly a week to disclose details of the confrontations in Hotan and Yarkand.

The police have barred foreign journalists from the area, making it difficult to assess the government's version of events.

Critics say that bloodshed, which included the assassination of a prominent Muslim cleric Wednesday in the city of Kashgar, suggests that Beijing's high-profile campaign to contain violence in the region may be aggravating tensions among the region's Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking minority, some of whom complain of discrimination and restrictions on Islamic religious practices.

In a special meeting Saturday, the region's top Communist Party leaders vowed to continue a yearlong security campaign, begun in May, that seeks to root out Islamic extremists who have been cast as the primary enemy of ethnic unity in Xinjiang.

During the meeting, Zhang Chunxian, the party secretary of Xinjiang, employed provocative language, vowing to "exterminate" what he said was a "savage and evil" army of separatists who the government contends are influenced -- and in some cases directed -- by extremists from overseas.

"We have to hit hard, hit accurately and hit with awe-inspiring force," Tianshan quoted Mr. Zhang as saying. "To fight such evils we must aim at extermination. To cut weeds we must dig out the roots."

The campaign includes a new identification card that Uighurs say restricts their ability to move through the region, and policies that discourage women from wearing veils.

Uighur exile groups have disputed Beijing's version of the recent unrest, saying the government exaggerates the role of outside instigators and ignores the underlying issues that are fueling Uighur discontent.

"China is distorting the real situation of the Uighur struggle," Dilxat Rexit, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress in Germany, said in an email. "This so-called charge of terrorism is a way for the government to avoid taking responsibility for the use of excessive force that causes so many casualties."


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