Chinese police kill eight Uighurs in Xinjiang clash

Chinese police kill eight Uighurs in Xinjiang clash
Two SWAT policemen run during a training competition in Urumqi in northwest China's Xinjiang region, where tension between law enforcement and Muslim Uighurs runs high. (AFP/Getty Images)

BEIJING -- Police in China's far western Xinjiang region killed eight people Monday when a group wielding knives and throwing explosives attacked a police station, local authorities said.

The official Xinhua news agency referred to the incident in Yarkand county as a "terrorist attack," and the incident comes just two weeks after 16 people were reported killed in a clash between police and ethnic Uighurs near the city of Kashgar, in the same vicinity.

Uighurs, a mostly Muslim ethnic minority more closely related to the Turks than the Chinese, complain of harassment and discrimination at the hands of authorities in Xinjiang.

Tensions have been particularly high this year, especially in recent months, after an incident in October in which a Uighur family drove a car into Tiananmen Square and set themselves on fire. In mid-November, 11 people were killed in Bachu county, also near Kashgar.

Dilxat Rexit, a Sweden-based spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, said Monday he could not confirm the death toll in the latest incident but said he believed Uighurs had come to the police station to protest against poor treatment, and denied that they were armed.

"The suppression of Uighurs has become intolerable. Ever since the incident in Bachu, the local government has employed a lot of armed police in the Kashgar area. This county in particular is under strict suppression," he said.

"In recent months, the government has been cracking down on innocent people under the guise of cracking down on international terrorists, ethnic separatists and religious extremists. They've been interrogating them and trying to get them to give up their religion. It's taking away their basic rights."

Specifically, Rexit said, police were breaking up Koran study gatherings in homes and preventing women from wearing traditional scarves. Uighurs also complain about discrimination in employment and housing.

The local government this year launched a campaign known as "Project Beauty" to discourage women from covering their heads with a veil.

Nicole Liu in The Times Beijing bureau contributed to this report.