BEIJING (AP) — At least 12 people were killed in riots Tuesday near the Chinese city of Kashgar in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang, state media reported.
No details were given about what might have set off the violence, although Xinjiang see periodic outbreaks of anti-government violence by restless members of the region’s native Turkish Muslim Uighur ethnic group.
The Xinhua News Agency said rioters armed with knives attacked victims in Yecheng county outside the city starting at about 6 p.m. They killed 10 people and police shot two assailants to death, the report said.
Xinhua said police were chasing others involved in the attacks but did not say how many suspects there were.
The report could not be independently confirmed. Chinese authorities maintain tight control over information and the circumstances surrounding such incidents are often murky.
The periodic attacks in the region occur despite a smothering security presence imposed following 2009 riots in the regional capital of Urumqi that pitted Uighurs against migrants from China’s majority Han in which almost 200 people died.
Xinjiang saw more deadly violence last summer, when a group of Uighurs stormed a police station in the city of Hotan on July 18 and took hostages, killing four. Then, just days later on July 30 and 31, Uighurs in Kashgar hijacked a truck, set a restaurant on fire and stabbed people in the street.
Authorities said 14 of the attackers were shot by police in Hotan, and five assailants were killed in the violence in Kashgar.
China says those events were organized terror attacks, but an overseas Uighur rights group says they were anti-government riots carried out by angry citizens. Uighur (pronounced WEE’-gur) activists and security analysts blame the violence on economic marginalization and restrictions on Uighur culture and the Muslim religion that are breeding frustration and anger among young Uighurs.
Chinese authorities have offered little evidence to back up their claims of outside involvement and rarely provide details on arrests or punishment of the suspects. Tight information controls and the remoteness of the area, more than 2,175 miles (3,500 kilometers) west of Beijing, ensure that the circumstances surrounding such incidents often remain murky.
Calls to government and police offices in Kashgar and at Xinjiang regional headquarters in Kashgar rang unanswered Tuesday night.
Tuesday’s attacks come at an especially sensitive time as security is tightened across China before the national legislature’s annual session opens next week.
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