China calls for Xinjiang "terror suspects" to surrender

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China has called for "terror suspects" to surrender to authorities in the far western Xinjiang region, promising lenient punishments for those who do, state media said, in the wake of the region's deadliest attack in years.

"Those who are involved in (activities relating to terrorism) will be given mitigated punishments if they turn themselves in within 30 days," the official Xinhua news agency reported late on Saturday, citing local authorities.

Five suicide bombers carried out Thursday morning's attack in Urumqi, the capital city of Xinjiang, which killed 31 people at a vegetable market, according to state media.

The attackers ploughed two vehicles into an open market and hurled explosives. Many of the 94 wounded were elderly shoppers, according to witnesses. "Those who turn themselves in and make meritorious performances will be given minor punishment or exempted from punishment," local authorities said, according to Xinhua.

The bombing was the second suicide attack in the capital in just over three weeks. A bomb and knife attack at an Urumqi train station in April killed a bystander and wounded 79.

On Friday, China launched a one-year crackdown to hunt down and punish terrorists in Xinjiang and "prevent terrorism and extremism from spreading to other regions," state media reported.

The government had already launched a campaign to strike hard against terrorism in Xinjiang, blaming Islamists and separatists for the worsening violence in the resource-rich western region bordering central Asia. At least 180 people have been killed in attacks across China over the past year.

Exiles and rights groups say the real cause of the unrest in Xinjiang is China's heavy-handed policies, including curbs on Islam and the culture of Uighurs, Muslims who speak a Turkic language.

The Uighurs have long complained of official discrimination in favour of the Han people, China's majority ethnic group.

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