Chinese police shoot man dead at checkpoint in Xinjiang

BEIJING (Reuters) - The police in China's far-western region of Xinjiang have shot dead a man who drove through a security checkpoint, the local government said on Thursday, the latest violence to hit the troubled area with a large Muslim population.

The man, Abdul Basiti Abdulimiti, was a "terrorist" from Keping county in Aksu prefecture, the Aksu government said on its website. It did not identify him as one of the mainly Muslim Uighur people who call the region home, but his name suggests he was.

Abdulimiti was killed on Saturday after he stormed two security checkpoints on a motorcycle, ignoring warning shots fired by officers, the Xinjiang government said on its local news portal, Tianshannet. He snatched a firearm and assaulted a police officer, the government said.

Xinjiang government spokesman Hou Hanmin did not answer calls to her mobile phone.

Xinjiang, strategically located on the borders of central Asia, has been dogged for years by violence, which Beijing blames on Islamist militants and separatists who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan.

But exiles and many rights groups trace the cause to China's policies, including curbs on Islam and the Uighur people's culture and language, charges the government denies.

Mr Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the main Uighur exile group, the World Uyghur Congress, said the motorcyclist was 17 and accused China of "distorting the events by alleging terrorism". "I once again urge China to strictly punish the armed personnel who opened fire to ease the deterioration of the situation," he said in an e-mailed statement.

In the wake of the incident, "hostile external forces maliciously distorted facts" and fabricated rumours, the Xinjiang government said.

The local authorities have detained a resident from Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, for 15 days for "spreading rumours", the government said.

Tensions have risen in Xinjiang in the past year and security has been tightened after a spate of deadly attacks. In March, China said militants from Xinjiang launched a terrorist attack in the southwestern city of Kunming, killing at least 29 people and injuring about 140, in one of the worst bouts of violence to spill out of the region.

More than 100 people, including several police, have been killed in violence in Xinjiang since last April, according to state media reports.

China beefed up security in Xinjiang after a vehicle ploughed into tourists on Beijing's Tiananmen Square in October, killing the three people in the car and two bystanders. China labelled it a suicide attack by militants from Xinjiang.

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