Blast hits capital of China's western Xinjiang region: Xinhua

BEIJING (REUTERS) - Colliding vehicles caused an explosion in a street market in the capital of China's western region of Xinjiang on Thursday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

The blast occurred at an open market near Renmin Park in Urumqi and "an unknown amount of people" were injured, Xinhua said.

Flames and heavy smoke were seen nearby while the area had been cordoned off after the blast, which took place at around 8am local time (0000 GMT), Xinhua added.

China has blamed a series of knife and bomb attacks in recent months on separatist militants from Xinjiang, the traditional home of the ethnic Uighur people.

Xinjiang has been plagued by violence for years, but rights activists and exile groups say the government's own heavy handed policies in the region have sowed the seeds of unrest.

Photos posted on social media purportedly of the blast, but unverified by Reuters, showed a column of smoke and chaos at a fruit and vegetable market, with injured people lying on the road. Those injured were rushed to hospital, Xinhua said.

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