China police blame terrorists for Xinjiang violence

BEIJING (AFP) - Chinese police said 12 people killed in Xinjiang last week were carrying out "terrorist attacks", after the latest unrest to hit the restive region, state media reported Monday.

An overseas rights group, meanwhile, pointed to China's "systematic repression" of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority as the trigger for violence.

Six people died in explosions - including blasts in a hairdressing salon and market - while another six were shot dead by police in Xinhe in Aksu prefecture in China's far west on Friday.

The vast Xinjiang region, home to the predominantly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority, has for years been hit by sporadic unrest, which rights groups say is driven by cultural oppression, intrusive security measures and immigration by Han Chinese.

Independent confirmation of incidents is often hard to obtain.

A police investigation showed last Friday's explosions were "organised, premeditated terrorist attacks", the official Xinhua news agency said, as authorities revealed new details of the incident.

"The group rode on three motorcycles to set up explosions at a hair salon and a vegetable market at about 6:40 pm on Friday," it said.

"Shortly after the explosions, the police responded and opened fire to fight back attacks by the group when they were making arrests," it said, adding that six suspects were gunned down and six others died in explosions they set off themselves.

One policeman was slightly injured but "no bystander casualties" were reported, it reported, adding that five suspects were arrested.

Mr Dilshat Rexit, spokesman for the overseas rights group World Uighur Congress, said in a statement that China's oppressive rule of Uighurs in Xinjiang was to blame for unrest.

"China accuses those who resist its oppressive rule of being terrorists, sidestepping the fact that systematic repression is the main factor leading to that resistance," he said.

"Uighurs cannot continue to bear China's provocations and discrimination any longer. If China does not stop immediately, it will cause the local situation to deteriorate even further," he added.

In recent months Xinjiang has seen regular violent incidents, usually involving men armed with knives and explosives, according to official media.

Beijing attributes the troubles to religious extremists and separatism.

The most serious recent violent incident took place in the Turpan area of Xinjiang, leaving at least 35 people dead in June.

And in October three people from the same Xinjiang family died when they drove a car into crowds of tourists on Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the symbolic heart of the Chinese state, killing two, before the vehicle burst into flames, according to authorities.