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12 killed as violence rocks western China

BEIJING — A series of explosions and police gunfire have left a dozen people dead in China’s far west Xinjiang region, the latest spasm of violence to shake the vast, strategically vital area that borders several Central Asian countries.

Details of the incident remain murky, but a local government website said Saturday that the dead included six people gunned down by police Friday evening and another six killed by three explosions in and around a hair salon and vegetable market in Aksu Prefecture.

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Another account, posted on the state-run Tianshan news portal, said one explosion occurred after the police “besieged” what was described as a suspicious vehicle. Two of the dead had been sitting inside the vehicle, the report said.

The authorities arrested three people and several others were injured, including a police officer.

The clash, which occurred in the county seat of Xinhe, not far from the border with Kyrgyzstan, is the latest in a spate of violence in Xinjiang, home to most of China’s 10 million ethnic Uighurs, a Muslim, Turkic-speaking people whose uneasy ties to the region’s Han Chinese majority has turned increasingly bloody.

Reports in the state-run media did not list the names or ethnicities of those involved in the violence, but such episodes invariably pit Uighurs against Chinese security forces. During the past two months, at least three dozen Uighurs in south Xinjiang have been killed by police, including three young men gunned down Jan. 15 outside a police station in Yengieriq, another town in Aksu Prefecture.

In that incident, security agents opened fire after the men had been denied entry to a local police station, according to Radio Free Asia. The report quoted local police officials as saying the men had been carrying sickles and described them as “separatists.”

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In December, the state news media said that police in the Silk Road city of Kashgar had shot and killed eight people who had attacked a police vehicle with knives and “explosive devices.”

Two weeks earlier, another clash in Kashgar had left 16 people dead, including six women and two police officers. As with similar incidents, officials described bloodshed as an act of “terrorism.”

An exile group, the World Uyghur Congress, said it was an “indiscriminate shooting” by security forces on members of a wedding party. The government blocks independent reporting in the region, making it difficult to learn more details about such clashes.

During the past year, violent confrontations have occurred with growing frequency, alarming Chinese leaders and prompting even heavier security in the energy-rich region. Last week Beijing announced that it was doubling Xinjiang’s public security budget, with one regional official vowing “no mercy for terrorists,” according to the state news media.

Officials invariably blame the bloodshed on separatists seeking to establish an independent homeland for Xinjiang’s Uighurs, whose loyalties to Beijing have been tested by increasingly aggressive government policies.

Exile groups and analysts outside of China say the discontent is aggravated by intrusive measures, including restrictions on religious practices, as well as uneven economic development that favors ethnic Han Chinese migrants.

Groups like the World Uyghur Congress attribute many recent Uighur deaths to aggressive policing tactics.

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