China says 40 ‘rioters’ killed in restive Xinjiang

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Six civilians, two police officers and two auxiliary policemen also killed in attacks in Xinjiang’s Luntai county

Forty “rioters” were killed in China’s far-western Xinjiang region following a series of explosions last Sunday, the worst incident of violence in months, the regional government has said after a four-day news blackout.

Residents on Friday described heavy security in place days after the violence.

Six civilians, two police officers and two auxiliary police were also killed in the attacks in Xinjiang’s Luntai county, with 54 civilians injured, the regional government’s news portal Tianshan said late Thursday.

Two “rioters” were captured, it added, while the main suspect, whose name was given as Mamat Tursun, was shot dead.

The violence took place just two days before the sentencing of prominent Muslim Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was on trial on charges of separatism.

Chinese state media had previously only stated that two people had been killed in the incident. The ruling Communist Party tightly restricts access to the restive region, and information is difficult to independently verify.

Such a delay in the release of details is not uncommon.

Staff at hotels in Luntai county described a continuing heavy security presence.

“Security forces are still in the street,” said one receptionist.

A woman who answered the phone at another inn also gave an account of security out in force, and that business had suffered as “lots of people don’t come these days”.

Tohti, a former university professor who has been critical of Beijing’s policies in the vast western region, was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday.

The United States, the European Union, and several human rights groups have called for the release of Tohti, 44, whose prosecution risks silencing moderate Uighur voices and cutting off the possibility of dialogue, analysts say.

Critics also warned his conviction could add to tensions in the restive region.

According to the Tianshan report, the “organised and serious” attack comprised four explosions that took place Sunday evening, targeting two police stations, an outdoor market and a shop.

Among the 54 civilians injured were 32 members of China’s mostly Muslim Uighur minority and 22 Han Chinese, it said.

The 40 “rioters” killed had either blown themselves up or were shot dead by police, Tianshan said.

Police said that Mamat Tursun, the alleged ringleader of Sunday’s attack, had been “gradually developing into an extremist” since 2003 and had “called on other people to join his terrorist group when working on construction projects”, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

In the past year, escalating violence between locals and security forces in Xinjiang – the traditional homeland of the Uighurs – has claimed more than 200 lives and prompted Beijing to launch a security crackdown.