A bloody clash at a police station in restive far west China that left at least four people dead was an organized terrorist attack, a regional government official said Tuesday.
An exile group, however, rejected the terrorist claim, and said the violence Monday in Xinjiang's Hotan city was a clash between ethnic Uighur protesters and police. The World Uyghur Congress said in an emailed statement that 20 Uighurs were killed and 70 detained.
Xinjiang has been beset by ethnic conflict and a sometimes-violent separatist movement by Uighurs (pronounced WEE'-gurs), a largely Muslim ethnic group that sees Xinjiang as its homeland. Many Uighurs resent the Han Chinese majority as interlopers.
Xinjiang regional government spokesman Hou Hanmin told The Associated Press that officials were still trying to confirm the final death and injury tolls from the attack. She was quoted earlier by the state-run Global Times newspaper as saying a group of terrorists armed with grenades and carrying a flag with separatist messages stormed local government offices and a police station, taking hostages and attacking police.
At least four people _ a policeman, a security guard and two hostages _ were killed by the terrorists, the newspaper said. Several attackers were also killed by police, it said, but didn't give an exact number.
A report Monday afternoon by the official Xinhua News Agency did not mention terrorism or separatism, and called the alleged attackers "thugs."
The World Uyghur Congress said the violence erupted when more than 100 Uighurs gathered to protest a police crackdown in the city. Demonstrators gathered outside police headquarters and demanded to know the status of relatives who had allegedly gone missing into police custody. The crackdown began following deadly ethnic riots in the regional capital, Urumqi, in July 2009, WUC spokesman Dilxat Raxit said.
The telephones of the Xinjiang Public Security Bureau rang unanswered Tuesday.
Predominantly Uighur, Hotan is an oasis town of more than 115,000 people in the southern part of Xinjiang, not far from the border with Pakistan.
China blames Xinjiang conflicts on what it says are violent separatists working with foreign-based groups.
It defends its treatment of minorities, saying all ethnic groups in China are treated equally and that tens of billions of dollars in investment and aid have dramatically raised living standards.