China's President Xi says Xinjiang is frontline in fight against terrorism, hails the police

BEIJING (Reuters) - The police are the "fists and daggers" in the fight against terrorism, China's President Xi Jinping said on a trip to the western Xinjiang region where the authorities say members of a Muslim minority are waging a violent separatist campaign.

Mr Xi's tour, reported in state media late on Monday, was his first to the region since a ruling Communist Party conclave in November in which he ushered in a national security commission to combat foreign and domestic threats.

Mr Xi has raised the pitch of his warnings on security threats after a spate of deadly attacks, including one in the south-western city of Kunming in March in which 29 people were killed and 140 injured by knife-wielding attackers who the government said were militants from Xinjiang.

"The Kashgar region is the front line in anti-terrorism and maintaining social stability," the official Xinhua news agency citied Mr Xi as telling paramilitary police in the Silk Road city of Kashgar in western Xinjiang that has been at the centre of much of the unrest. "The situation is grim and complicated. The local level police stations are fists and daggers," he said.

The report, carried widely in state media, showed photographs of Mr Xi touring police facilities. "You must have the most effective means to deal with violent terrorists," Mr Xi said at a police station where he was pictured inspecting a wall of various kinds of truncheons. "Sweat more in peacetime to bleed less in wartime," he said.

Uighurs are Turkic-language speaking Muslims. Many of them chafe at Chinese controls on their culture and religion.

Unrest in Xinjiang has led to the deaths of more than 100 people in the past year, prompting a tougher stance against Uighurs.

The government blames the violence on Islamist militants and separatists from the Uighur community who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan. But rights advocates say China's harsh rule tramples on Uighurs' language and culture.

Uighurs have traditionally followed a moderate form of Islam but many have begun adopting practices more commonly seen in Saudi Arabia or Afghanistan, such as full-face veils for women, as China has intensified a security crackdown in recent years.

Many Uighurs complain they are denied economic opportunities amid an influx of Han Chinese into the region.

Mr Xi urged ethnic unity and encouraged students to seize the opportunity to learn both Chinese and the Uighur language. "Learning two languages will not only make finding jobs easier, it more importantly will make contributions to promoting ethnic unity," Mr Xi told schoolchildren and their teachers.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.