BEIJING (AP) — Authorities in western China said Monday that police fatally shot eight "terrorists" who had attacked them using knives and explosives in the latest in a string of violent incidents in the ethnically tense region.
The Xinjiang government news portal Tianshan Net said that the group of nine attacked officers and burned police cars in Shache county, which is overseen by the famed Silk Road city of Kashgar.
It was the latest in a series of attacks pointing to growing unrest in the large sprawling region of Xinjiang, home to a simmering rebellion against Chinese rule among parts of the native Muslim Uighur population who want more autonomy from Beijing. Recent clashes, including an attack on a police station last month, have left dozens of people dead.
A Xinjiang government press officer confirmed Monday's report but said he had no further information. He gave only his surname, Cao. Police reached by phone in Shache and Kashgar said they had no information about the incident.
The Chinese government typically calls such incidents terrorist attacks linked to radicals based overseas, although there is little evidence that they are carefully organized.
Xinjiang is home to about 9 million Uighurs, who make up less than half of the population of Xinjiang, which they used to dominate. Many complain that they have been marginalized by policies favoring migrants from China's ethnic Han majority.
Beijing says it treats all minorities fairly and spends billions of dollars on development and improving living standards in Xinjiang.
Tianshan Net said the police took "resolute measures" by shooting the eight and arresting one, adding the case was under further investigation.
Sweden-based Uighur activist Dilxat Raxit said Uighurs were being shot to death "due to their discontent with China's policies."
"To label the protesters as terrorists and shoot them to death is a new way of suppressing the Uighurs following China's judicial reforms," he said, referring to recent moves to improve the country's party-controlled justice system.
As well as a number of deadly clashes in Xinjiang this year, an attack in October struck at the heart of Beijing. Three Uighurs drove a vehicle through crowds in front of iconic Tiananmen Gate, killing themselves and two tourists.
In Washington, U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf called on all parties to avoid violence.
"We are closely following reports of continuing violence in the Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region of China," Harf said in a statement. "We continue to call on the Chinese government to permit its citizens to express their grievances freely, publicly, peacefully and without fear of retribution. We also call on Uyghurs to not resort to violence, for the Chinese security forces to exercise restraint."
Associated Press Writer Deb Riechmann contributed to this report from Washington.