Security heavy in west China city hit by attacks

AP News
Posted: Aug 02, 2011 6:58 AM
Security heavy in west China city hit by attacks

Machine gun-toting paramilitary police guarded major intersections Tuesday in a far western Chinese city where 20 people have died in recent violence the government blames on Muslim extremists.

Units of the People's Armed Police, some in riot suppression gear, stood in clumps at points throughout Kashgar, a Silk Road city of 600,000 people, about 80 percent of whom are members of Xinjiang's native Turkic Muslim Uighur ethnic group.

Armored cars were parked along streets and a nighttime curfew was in force downtown, with people only allowed to cross the security cordon to leave for the suburbs.

Authorities have blamed militants trained in weapons and bomb making at camps run by the East Turkistan Islamic Movement in Pakistan for Sunday's knife and arson attacks in which 11 people died. The government hasn't disclosed evidence for that allegation.

Five of the suspected assailants were among the deaths Sunday, and on Monday, police shot dead two suspects who had been sought in the attack.

Authorities have not pinpointed suspects in clashes Saturday that killed seven, including one of two men who allegedly hijacked a truck and rammed it into a crowd.

Kashgar police officer Du Xinli said the attacks appeared linked but declined to offer details, citing an ongoing investigation.

Pools of dried blood were visible Tuesday on the floor of the destroyed restaurant, its windows were shattered and its walls charred by fire.

A witness, Ma Jun, said he had seen people stabbing passersby and rushed to get help. "We ran out and found a police car, so we directed the police over here," Ma said.

Security has been tight across Xinjiang since 2009 when almost 200 people were killed in fighting between majority Han Chinese and the Uighurs ethnic group. Two weeks ago, police shot 14 rioters who attacked a police station and killed four people in Hotan city, 300 miles (500 kilometers) southeast of Kashgar, Xinhua said.

Overseas activists feared the government could respond by cracking down further on Uighurs, who already face heavy restrictions on religious and cultural expression.

The Communist Party secretary of Xinjiang held an emergency meeting in Urumqi after the attacks and ordered a crackdown on religious extremism and "illegal religious activities," the official Xinhua News Agency said.

Pakistan, a key ally of China's, condemned the violence and offered support in combating the East Turkestan Islamic Movement, which seeks independence. While China has long claimed Uighur extremists received training abroad, its singling out of Pakistan in the latest incident could increase pressure on Islamabad to crackdown on militant groups within its borders.

China says the movement is allied with al-Qaida but has not described evidence for that allegation.

A statement issued by the Washington D.C.-based Uyghur American Association said recent unrest had "punctuated an atmosphere of fear, repression and conflict" in Xinjiang, and said it feared Uighurs suspected of involvement in the violence could be subject to torture and arbitrary detention.

Pervasive fear and hopelessness had pushed some Uighurs to "extreme desperation," the group's president Alim Seytoff said in the statement.

China defends its treatment of minorities, saying all ethnic groups are treated equally and that tens of billions of dollars in investment and aid have dramatically raised living standards.

Xinjiang is China's Central Asian frontier, bordering Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia and other countries. Kashgar was an important hub on the ancient route through which Chinese silk and other goods reached Europe.


Associated Press writer Christopher Bodeen contributed to this report from Beijing.