BEIJING -- Twenty-seven people were killed in riots early Wednesday in northwest China, state-run media reported, the deadliest outbreak of violence in the restive region in years.
Communist Party officials in Xinjiang -- where Uighurs, a Muslim minority, have repeatedly clashed with Han Chinese settlers -- told the official Xinhua news agency that knife-wielding mobs attacked a police station, a government building and a construction site in Lukqun township starting around 6 a.m., stabbing people and setting fire to police cars.
Photos on state-run television’s QQ microblog website showed at least four thoroughly burned-out police cars and a bus in front of a police station with a scorched facade and broken windows. In front of the building, a pool of water was tinged with what looked like blood.
Xinhua said 17 people -- including nine policemen or security guards and eight civilians -- were killed before police shot and and killed 10 rioters. Three people were detained at the scene, the news agency said.
The township is in Turpan Prefecture, about 176 miles southeast of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. In April, 21 people including 15 police and local officials, were killed in Xinjiang in what Chinese authorities described as a raid on a separatist group that turned deadly.
Xinjiang is approaching the four-year anniversary of riots in 2009 that left 197 people dead. Those clashes were the deadliest outbreak of ethnic violence in China in decades.
The Xinhua report gave no explanation for what sparked the violence, but microblog dispatches reporting details from the scene indicated that assailants may have used homemade explosives, and described the attack as well-organized.
One poster said the attack may have been “revenge” for an incident involving the death of two Uighur workers at an east coast toy factory on the night of June 25 or morning of June 26, 2009. Protests over those two deaths triggered the mass riot in Xinjiang about two weeks later.
For years, Chinese migrant workers in search of higher wages have been moving west into Xinjiang, changing the ethnic character of the region and taking many of the best jobs.
Dilxat Rexit, a Sweden-based spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, said in a phone interview that there have been outbreaks of violence in Turpan recently. Earlier this year, he said, a Uighur youth was beaten to death by Han Chinese and that has escalated tensions between the two ethnic groups.
"The cause of today’s incident is from the continuous oppression and incitement from the Chinese government," he said. "To avoid this kind of instability, the international community should pressure China to abandon the policies that have led to the current crisis.“
Nicole Liu and Tommy Yang in the Times’ Beijing bureau contributed to this report.