China punishes 17 officials after Xinjiang attack which killed dozens last year

BEIJING (REUTERS) - China punished 17 officials in Xinjiang for security lapses surrounding deadly explosions and riots in September, state media said, as the Communist Party boss in the western region warned the fight against "terrorism"had entered a "more intense" phase.

Dozens were killed near Xinjiang's Luntai county in the unrest after explosions killed six people, triggering a shootout with police. Police shot dead 40 rioters, some of whom were seeking to blow themselves up, said state media at the time.

The incident was one of a series of deadly attacks that have rocked the region in recent years. The government has blamed the violence on ethnic Uighur separatists, who it says want to form an independent country called East Turkestan.

It is difficult for foreign journalists to report in Xinjiang, rendering it almost impossible to reach an independent assessment of the security situation.

After an investigation into the Sept. 21 incident, Xinjiang's Communist Party committee gave 17 officials "party and government disciplinary" punishment for lapses including those related to security and publicity duties, news website, which is run by the committee, said late on Thursday.

Zhang Chunxian, Xinjiang's party secretary, said at a meeting on Wednesday that the region's security situation"remained extremely grim".

"Xinjiang's anti-terrorism fight has entered a phase that is more complicated and more intense than in the past," Zhang said, according to a separate report published by the website on Thursday. "We must take the initiative to brandish the sword, take the offensive and comprehensively attack," he said.

Xinjiang is the traditional home of the Uighur people, who speak a Turkic language and are mostly Muslim.

The government has blamed attacks in other parts of China, including Beijing, on Islamist militants from Xinjiang.

Human rights activists say Beijing's repressive policies in Xinjiang, including curbs on religion and culture as well as economic and social disadvantages, have provoked a surge in unrest - a claim China denies.

An indication of the government's efforts to suppress coverage of the region, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists has said China arrested two brothers of an exiled Uighur reporter living in the United States.

"We're deeply concerned by reports that family members of the Radio Free Asia journalist Shohret Hoshur continue to be harassed, including reports that his brothers have been imprisoned, apparently in retribution for his reporting," U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Thursday.

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