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Explosion in China's restive Xinjiang kills seven

by Marianne Barriaux Marianne Barriaux – Thu Aug 19, 8:07 am ET


BEIJING (AFP) – Seven people were killed Thursday when a man drove a vehicle loaded with explosives into a crowd and it blew up in China's Xinjiang region, the scene of deadly ethnic unrest last year, an official said.

Police detained the injured suspect -- a member of Xinjiang's Uighur minority -- at the site of the blast in the outskirts of Aksu, a city near the border with Kyrgyzstan, regional government spokeswoman Hou Hanmin told AFP.

"The suspect is a Uighur. Most of the victims are Uighurs too. The suspect was driving a three-wheeled vehicle carrying explosives into a crowd of people at a crossroads in the suburbs of Aksu," she said.

"Accident can be ruled out (as a cause)," she added, but said it was too early to say whether the blast, which also injured 14 people, was an act of terrorism.

Hou said local security volunteers were among the dead and injured.

According to the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, which interviewed residents in Aksu, martial law has been declared in the city and a large number of armed police deployed.

The far-western Xinjiang region, where the mainly Muslim Uighur minority has long seethed under Chinese rule, has experienced several violent bouts of unrest in recent years.

On July 5 last year the regional capital Urumqi was torn apart when Uighurs vented decades of resentment on members of China's dominant Han group. Han mobs took to the streets in the following days, seeking revenge.

Nearly 200 people were killed and 1,700 injured in all, the government says, in the worst ethnic violence in China in decades.

China has blamed the unrest on "separatists" but provided no evidence of any organised terrorism. More than 25 people have either been executed or received the death penalty for their involvement in the violence, state media say.

Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the overseas World Uyghur Congress, accused the Chinese government of "systematic oppression" of Uighurs since the unrest.

"After July 5, China has carried out a policy of systematic oppression, causing the situation to continue to be volatile," he told AFP.

Several violent attacks also took place in different cities in Xinjiang in 2008 before and during the Beijing Summer Olympics, leaving dozens dead.

Xinjiang -- a vast, arid but resource-rich region that borders Central Asia -- has more than eight million Uighurs, and many are unhappy with what they say has been decades of repressive rule by Beijing and unwanted Han immigration.

While standards of living have improved, Uighurs complain that most of the gains go to the Han.

In June this year, police said they had busted a ring behind a string of attacks in the region, arresting at least 10 people.

They said the group was responsible for one particularly gruesome incident in Kashgar, an ancient city in Xinjiang, in which attackers assaulted police with explosives and machetes in August 2008.

The ring included members of militant groups seeking independence for Xinjiang such as the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM), police said.

The United States and the United Nations have listed ETIM as a "terrorist" organisation. Both Washington and Beijing say ETIM militants have received training and funding from Al-Qaeda, although some analysts dispute that.
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