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Uighurs are blamed in deadly attack in China

Two men arrested in the killing of 16 police officers are said to be from the restive Turkic Muslim minority.

August 05, 2008|Mark Magnier | Times Staff Writer

BEIJING — The two suspects arrested in the slayings of 16 border police officers Monday in China's far west were members of the Uighur minority, the government reported.

The attack, which occurred in the Xinjiang Autonomous Region, also wounded 16 members of the paramilitary force. The two men allegedly drove a dump truck into a group of 70 officers jogging past a hotel about 8 a.m.

Authorities said the suspects were 28 and 33 years old, but did not identify them.

According to the state-run New China News Agency, one attacker drove at the exercising officers while the other jumped out of the vehicle and threw an explosive device toward the gate of the security team's police station. The truck then hit an electric pole.

Local police said one attacker injured one of his limbs as he set off the bomb. The two men were reportedly arrested on the spot, and a search of the vehicle is said to have turned up 10 other explosives, a homemade handgun and four knives.

Most Uighurs, a Turkic Muslim minority that has chafed under Han Chinese rule, live in Xinjiang, where they account for about 40% of the province's 20 million population.

Monday's attack was among the most deadly in the far west in recent years. Xinjiang has seen sporadic violence that peaked in the 1990s as local Muslims protested Chinese crackdowns.

Sun Weide, a media official with the organizing committee of the Beijing Games, said China was stepping up security ahead of the opening ceremony Friday.

China has already deployed about 100,000 police and soldiers, mounted antiaircraft missiles around major venues, and put jet fighters and helicopters on alert.

"We've made preparations for all possible threats," Sun told reporters. "We believe, with the support of the government, with the help of the international community, we have the confidence and the ability to host a safe and secure Olympic Games."

President Bush, one of 80 world leaders expected to attend the Games, is set to arrive Thursday. Last week, in what some analysts saw as a nod to critics of China's human rights policies, Bush met with five dissidents. Among them was Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur businesswoman reviled by China who lives in exile in the U.S.

Human rights critics concede that China has legitimate security concerns, as does any country holding a major event in the wake of the 2001 attacks in New York and Washington. But some argue that China may be overplaying threats to justify a widespread crackdown on political expression and protest seen in recent months.

"We condemn all acts of violence. The Uighur people do not support acts that engender bloodshed," Kadeer said in a statement Monday from Washington.

"I urge the Chinese government to refrain from using this incident to crack down further upon peaceful Uighurs."

China is often quick to label such attacks as acts of terrorism, some critics say, when they are often related to grudges or reflect frustration over local corruption and injustice. China is a caldron of social tensions as economic development widens the gap between the rich and poor.

Tian Yixiang, a senior army commander and security chief for the Olympics, said Friday at a base on the outskirts of Beijing that radical separatist Uighur groups were the principal security concern during the Games. Other threats, he added, included pro-independence Tibetan organizations and the Falun Gong, a spiritual group Beijing has condemned as an "evil cult."

The state news agency reported that 14 of the police died at the scene of Monday's attack and that the other two died en route to the hospital. Local police and government officials could not be reached for comment.

Uighurs, particularly those working for the Xinjiang government, are not allowed to worship in mosques or to speak their own language on the job. They often are required to sit through hours of political lectures each week.

Many complain that China has encouraged migration of Han Chinese to the restive region and given the best jobs to the newcomers.

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mark.magnier@latimes.com

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