BEIJING (Reuters) - China's western region of Xinjiang has set new rules to boost "ethnic solidarity", state media said on Friday (Jan 15), amid roiling violence between Muslim Uighurs and the majority Han Chinese that has left hundreds dead in recent years.
The government has blamed unrest in Xinjiang on Islamist militants, though rights groups and exiles say anger at Chinese controls on the religion and culture of the Uighurs is more to blame than any cohesive militant group.
The new rules, introduced on Jan 1, make promoting ethnic unity a main factor in evaluating officials' performance on the job, the official Xinhua news agency said.
"Public places such as hotels, restaurants, train and bus stations, airports and markets shall provide equal treatment of all ethnic groups," Xinhua cited the rules as saying.
"Region, nationality, religious belief or folk customs shall not be used as reasons to discriminate, or refuse to provide service, in these venues," Xinhua said.
The rules also stipulate "the role of parents or other guardians in nurturing and raising the awareness of ethnic solidarity and harmony among children", it added.
The announcement comes a day after state media said regional officials were reviewing legislation to combat religious extremism.
The rules have been adopted amid widespread reports of government policies that constrain religious and cultural practices.
In recent years, the Xinjiang parliament has approved a ban in the regional capital Urumqi on the wearing of Islamic veils in public, and official government notices have told Muslims to ignore religious customs during the holy month of Ramadan.
In some cities in Xinjiang, people wearing head scarves and beards have been banned from riding buses, and police have offered money for public tips on everything from "violent terrorism training" to individuals who grow long beards.
Many Uighurs decry what they say is employment discrimination, as well as an influx of Han Chinese workers that has created an economic divide among ethnic groups.
China denies any repression in Xinjiang.
The ruling Communist Party says it protects freedom of religion, but keeps a tight rein on religious activities and allows only officially recognised religious institutions to operate.
China has around 20 million Muslims spread throughout the country, only a portion of which are Uighur, a Turkic-language speaking group that calls energy-rich Xinjiang, on the border of Central Asia, home.