BEIJING (AP) — China on Wednesday accused terrorists in a Muslim Uighur region of attacking civilians, but an exiled Uighur group said the violence that killed 12 people mainly targeted armed Chinese personnel.
The bloodshed late Tuesday in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang came at a sensitive time, ahead of next week's opening of China's national legislature, when authorities tighten security nationwide to prevent anything that would mar the annual session.
Officials and state media said the bloodshed started when assailants attacked civilians with knives on a commercial street in Yecheng city, killing 10 people; police fatally shot two of the attackers, the official accounts said.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei callled the attackers "terrorists" and said they attacked innocent civilians, "cruelly killing several of them in an appalling manner."
However, Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the German-based World Uyghur Congress, said that the violence in Yecheng — called Kargilik by Uighurs — erupted because local residents "could no longer bear China's systematic repression," and have been denied outlets for peaceful protest.
He said local Uighurs told him seven armed Chinese security personnel were killed and that three people were shot to death. He said two more people were killed but did not provide any detail of those deaths. He said 10 people were injured, including two seriously hurt, and that police have detained 84 people. Police have sealed off the area, he said.
The government has failed to win over Uighurs and other ethnic minorities through policies to boost economic growth and incomes as it increases police presence and controls religious practices to deter displays of separatism. China's ethnic Tibetan regions have also been unsettled in recent months by scattered demonstrations and clashes with authorities, as well as self-immolations in protest against the government's policies.
"At present, Xinjiang is on the path of a leap-forward development," Hong, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, told reporters in Beijing. "We firmly oppose a handful of terrorists and separatists in sabotaging the peaceful development, good order and unity.
A Communist Party official in Yecheng county, who declined to give his name, said that aside from the two assailants shot on the spot, all the remaining attackers were later captured by police. He refused to answer further questions. Calls to police offices in Yecheng went unanswered.