China says 40 'rioters' killed in restive Xinjiang

China says 40 'rioters' killed in restive Xinjiang
Pedestrians walk past anti-terror propaganda posters pasted along the streets of Urumqi, farwest China's Xinjiang region on Sept 16.

BEIJING - Forty "rioters" were killed in China's far-western Xinjiang region following a series of explosions last Sunday, the worst incident of violence in months, the regional government has said after a four-day news blackout.

Residents on Friday described heavy security in place days after the violence.

Six civilians, two police officers and two auxiliary police were also killed in the attacks in Xinjiang's Luntai county, with 54 civilians injured, the regional government's news portal Tianshan said late Thursday.

Two "rioters" were captured, it added, while the main suspect, whose name was given as Mamat Tursun, was shot dead.

The violence took place just two days before the sentencing of prominent Muslim Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was on trial on charges of separatism.

Chinese state media had previously only stated that two people had been killed in the incident. The ruling Communist Party tightly restricts access to the restive region, and information is difficult to independently verify.

Such a delay in the release of details is not uncommon.

Staff at hotels in Luntai county contacted by AFP described a continuing heavy security presence.

"Security forces are still in the street," said one receptionist.

A woman who answered the phone at another inn also gave an account of security out in force, and that business had suffered as "lots of people don't come these days".

'Organised and serious' attack

Tohti, a former university professor who has been critical of Beijing's policies in the vast western region, was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday.

The United States, the European Union, and several human rights groups have called for the release of Tohti, 44, whose prosecution risks silencing moderate Uighur voices and cutting off the possibility of dialogue, analysts say.

Critics also warned his conviction could add to tensions in the restive region.

Teng Biao, a leading human rights lawyer and friend of Tohti, wrote this week that rather than a life sentence, the academic should be awarded a Nobel prize.

"The Chinese communist authorities, with their excessive violence, have created hostility, division and despair in Xinjiang and Tibet," Teng wrote in The Guardian newspaper.

"Tohti has denounced violence and devoted himself to bridging the divide and promoting understanding and tolerance," he added.

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