HONG KONG -- Deadly violence erupted on Friday in China's volatile far western Xinjiang region, the second time in three days that tensions between the largely Muslim Uighur minority and Chinese security forces have brought bloodshed to the area.
The latest clash occurred in Hotan Prefecture, in the southern part of Xinjiang, whose population is predominantly Uighur. The Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking group sharing many affinities with people across Central Asia, and most follow relatively moderate forms of Sunni Islam. Many Uighurs resent the growing number of Han Chinese people, who have been attracted to Xinjiang by jobs in farming, energy production and mining.
The clash on Friday is likely to alarm the Chinese government. It came just two days after a confrontation in Turpan Prefecture, another part of Xinjiang, left 35 people dead, according to the state-run news agency, Xinhua. In that episode, Xinhua said, a crowd attacked a township police station and government offices on Wednesday, and the police fired on the participants. Xinhua said rioters killed 24 people, and police officers fatally shot 11 rioters.
"We're seeing now violent instances becoming more frequent, unfortunately," said Alim A. Seytoff, the president of the Uyghur American Association, an exiled group based in Washington that campaigns for an independent Uighur homeland, which advocates call East Turkestan. "You can see from these instances of violence the intensification of Chinese repressive rule in the region."
The clashes this week came just before the fourth anniversary of widespread bloodshed in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, on July 5, 2009. At least 197 people were killed then after the police broke up a protest by Uighurs and the confrontation gave way to attacks by rioters on Han people, who make up China's majority. Han Chinese protesters later marched on Uighur neighborhoods, some attacking homes with bricks and cleavers. The police never said how many died or were injured in those revenge riots.
Yang Shu, a Chinese professor who studies unrest in Xinjiang, said the recent violence reflected Uighur grievances about social inequalities and dislocation driven by economic modernization, the spreading influence of militant currents of Islam and the deterioration of ethnic relations since 2009. In July 2011, 18 people died when rioters in Hotan stormed a police station.
"The July 5 incident is a major factor," Professor Yang, the director of the Institute for Central Asian Studies at Lanzhou University in northwest China, said in a telephone interview. "It was a watershed. Afterward, Uighur-Han relations have clearly deteriorated. We can't avoid this problem."
The Xinjiang region's economy grew by 12 percent in 2012, compared with 2011, but many Uighurs complain that better-paying jobs, land and business opportunities are beyond their grasp. Uighurs account for a little under half of Xinjiang's 22 million civilian inhabitants; Han Chinese account for 40 percent, according to government data. The Hotan area has about 2 million inhabitants, nearly 97 percent of them Uighur, according to census data from 2010.
Government restrictions on mosques and Muslim practices have also become a growing source of tensions, especially with Uighurs attracted to more conservative forms of Islam. The latest violence occurred less than two weeks before the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month. Some local governments in Xinjiang have sought to discourage Uighurs from their usual fasting at that time.
Xinjiang shares borders with Central Asian countries as well as Pakistan and a sliver of Afghanistan. It came under the control of Chinese Communist forces in 1949, and swaths are still controlled by quasi-military production organizations, which run huge farms for cotton, tomatoes and other crops.
In April, 21 people in Xinjiang died in fighting between security forces and people the government called "gangsters" and said were Uighurs. In March, two courts convicted and sentenced 20 people accused of militant separatism in the region.
The Chinese government has often blamed past violence in Xinjiang on militant groups seeking independence, especially the East Turkestan Islamic Movement. But advocates of Uighur self-determination say the violence is often a spontaneous local response to mass detentions and other harsh policing methods.
"These are not like the Chinese government often accuses or just states -- terrorists," said Mr. Seytoff, the president of the Uyghur American Association. "The Chinese repressive policies have driven some ordinary Uighurs into the ultimate desperation."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.