BEIJING (AP) — The official death toll rose to 35 Friday from an outburst of violence that included knife attacks on police in a far-western region that has seen frequent clashes between China’s Muslim minority Uighurs and the ethnic Han majority.
Initial reports said 27 people were killed Wednesday in a remote town in the Xinjiang region, with state-run media saying that knife-wielding assailants targeted police stations, a government building and a construction site — all symbols of Han authority and influx in the region.
The updated death toll included some of the severely injured dying in the hospital. It also included 11 assailants shot dead in Lukqun township in Turpan prefecture, the state-run Xinhua News agency said. Two police officers were among the 24 people they killed, Xinhua said.
The reports did not identify the ethnicity of the attackers, nor explain what may have caused the conflict in the Turkic-speaking region, where Uighurs have complained of suppression and discrimination by Han people. The report also said police captured four injured assailants.
The Wednesday violence — described as a terrorist act by China’s state media — was one of the bloodiest incidents since unrest in the region’s capital city of Urumqi killed nearly 200 in 2009.
It was impossible to independently confirm the state-run media accounts. The Global Times said police set up many checkpoints along the 30-kilometer (19-mile) road to Lukqun and dissuaded reporters from traveling there due to safety concerns.
Information is tightly controlled in the region, which the Chinese government regards as highly sensitive and where it has imposed a heavy security presence to quell unrest. However, forces are spread thin across the vast territory and the response from authorities is often slow.
Xinjiang (shihn-jeeahng) is home to a large population of minority Muslim Uighurs (WEE’-gurs) in a region that borders Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan and has been the scene of numerous violent acts in recent years, including the riots in the capital four years ago.
Critics have attributed the violence, including Wednesday’s deadly clashes, to Beijing’s oppressive and discriminatory ethnicity policies. Many Uighurs complain that Beijing imposes tight restrictions on their religious and cultural life, barring children and women from attending mosques and discouraging fasting during the Muslim month of Ramadan, which starts this year in early July.
The Chinese government says all ethnic groups are treated equally and that the violence is terrorism with no connection to religion or ethnicity. It points to billions of dollars it has invested in modernizing Xinjiang, a strategically vital region with significant oil and gas deposits.
Beijing often accuses overseas Uighur activists of orchestrating violence and obscure militant groups sometimes take responsibility, with little or no evidence to prove claims on either side.