Tiananmen vehicle attack suspects stand trial in China: Court

BEIJING (AFP) - Suspects involved in a fiery vehicle attack last year at Beijing's Tiananmen Square stood trial on Friday, a court said, as China pursues a crackdown on violence linked to its restive Xinjiang region.

The authorities say three ethnic Uighurs from Xinjiang drove an SUV loaded with petrol canisters towards the gate of the Forbidden City in late October, killing two bystanders as well as the three in the car, and injuring 40 people.

"A public trial in Urumqi, Xinjiang, heard the case of suspects involved with committing a serious violent terrorist incident in Beijing on Oct 28," said the Xinjiang Supreme Court in a posting on Sina Weibo, China's version of Twitter.

The statement did not say how many people stood trial, but added that "five accomplices" were previously arrested in relation to the incident.

The authorities have previously said eight people - including the three who died in the vehicle - were suspected of being involved with the attack.

Calls by AFP to prosecutors in Xinjiang and the Urumqi Intermediate and Supreme Courts went unanswered.

No verdicts were announced.

The proceedings came as a local government web portal, tianshan.net, said on Friday that three knife-wielding men were shot dead when they attacked the police on May 25 in Xinjiang's Bachu County.

The authorities opened fire after being alerted by villagers to five men sleeping in drainage pipes who became aggressive when the police arrived on the scene, tianshan.net said.

The authorities have launched a crackdown in the western region, sentencing nine people to death last week on terrorism-related charges.

Alleged Xinjiang separatists have been blamed for a wave of deadly incidents across China in recent months, including a bloody attack on a market in Urumqi in May which left 43 dead.

In March, a group of knife-wielding assailants killed 29 people at Kunming Railway Station in the south-western province of Yunnan, an attack dubbed "China's 9/11", which officials blamed on Xinjiang separatists.

Exile groups representing Xinjiang's mainly Muslim Uighurs claim cultural oppression and intrusive security measures imposed by the Chinese government are the main causes of tension in the volatile region.

Beijing, however, has long attributed Xinjiang-linked attacks to overseas-based terror groups, and claims the government has helped improve the standard of living in the region and pursued policies to develop its economy.

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