By Sabrina Mao and Sui-Lee Wee
BEIJING (Reuters) - A clash at a police station that left at least four people dead in western China's restive Xinjiang region was "an organised terrorist attack," a government official was quoted saying in state media on Tuesday.
Police in Xinjiang gunned down several rioters who attacked a police station, Xinhua said on Tuesday, the worst violence Xinjiang has experienced in about a year.
Hou Hanmin, chief of the regional information office, said it was "an organised terrorist attack," according to the Global Times, a popular tabloid owned by the Chinese Communist Party's mouthpiece, the People's Daily.
"The rioters carried explosive devices and grenades. They first broke into the offices of the local administration of industry and commerce and the taxation bureau that are close to the police station," Hou said. "They injured two persons there."
"When they realized the targets were wrong, they started to attack the police station from the ground floor to the second floor where they showed a flag with separatist messages," Hou said.
The attackers set the police station on fire before killing hostages during a stand-off with armed police, Hou said.
A Germany-based exile group, World Uyghur Congress, disputed the official account. It said 14 Uighurs were killed and 70 arrested when police opened fire on a peaceful protest, leading to fighting between the two sides.
"In order to avoid a further destabilization of the situation, the Chinese authorities should immediately stop the systematic repression," the group said in a statement.
State television said the latest incident took place in the desert city of Hotan when a mob attacked a police station, taking hostages and setting it on fire.
Two hostages, a paramilitary policeman and a guard died in the violence, as well as several of the attackers, it reported. Six hostages were freed.
The Global Times said the national counter-terrorism office had dispatched a team to Xinjiang.
Calls to the regional information office, the governments of Xinjiang and Hotan and the ministry of public security went unanswered.
Hotan is a city of some 300,000 people, 88 percent of them from minority groups, according to the Hotan government website.
Chinese censors blocked searches on Sina Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblogging services, on the attack. Search results for the Chinese renderings of "Xinjiang unrest" and "Hotan" showed a page that said, "according to relevant laws, regulations and policies, search results are not displayed."
Beijing often blames what it calls violent separatist groups in Xinjiang for attacks on police or other government targets, saying they work with al Qaeda or Central Asian militants to bring about an independent state called East Turkestan.
Many Uighurs -- a Muslim, Turkic-speaking people native to the region -- chafe under rule from Beijing and restrictions on their language, culture and religion. They make up less than half of Xinjiang's population after decades of immigration by the majority Han from other parts of China.
In July 2009, Xinjiang's capital Urumqi was rocked by violence between majority Han Chinese and minority Uighurs that killed nearly 200 people.
Since then, China has executed nine people it blamed for instigating the riots, detained and prosecuted hundreds of others and ramped up spending on security, according to state media and overseas rights groups.
A vast swathe of territory, accounting for one-sixth of China's land mass, Xinjiang holds oil, gas and coal deposits and borders Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Central Asia.
(Editing by Ken Wills)