Ethnic Uighur men leave the Id Kah Mosque after Friday prayers last month… (How Hwee Young / European…)
BEIJING — Knife-wielding mobs attacked a police station, a government building and a construction site in northwestern China on Wednesday, state media reported. It was the deadliest outbreak of violence for years in the region, where tension has simmered between minority Muslims and ethnic Han Chinese.
Twenty-seven people were reported killed in the riots in Xinjiang region, where Uighurs, a Muslim ethnic group, have repeatedly clashed with Han migrant workers who have flooded into the region in recent years, changing its ethnic character and taking many of the best jobs.
Communist Party officials in Xinjiang said the violence began about 6 a.m. when mobs in Lukqun township began stabbing people and setting fire to police cars, the official New China News Agency said. It was not clear who initiated the attacks, although the targets included government institutions associated with the Han.
The New China News Agency report gave no explanation of what sparked the violence, but microblog dispatches indicated that assailants may have used homemade explosives, and the attacks were described as well-organized.
One poster said the attacks may have been revenge for an incident involving the deaths of two Uighur workers at an east coast toy factory late on June 25 or early on June 26, 2009. Protests over those two deaths triggered riots in Xinjiang about two weeks later.
Dilxat Raxit, a Sweden-based spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, said in a phone interview that Wednesday's incident was caused by "continuous oppression and incitement from the Chinese government."
He said there had been other outbreaks of violence in the area recently. Earlier this year, he said, a Uighur youth was beaten to death by Han Chinese and that has escalated the tension.
"To avoid this kind of instability, the international community should pressure China to abandon the policies that have led to the current crisis," Raxit said.
The news agency said 17 people — nine policemen or security guards and eight civilians — were killed before police shot and killed 10 rioters. Three people were detained at the scene, it said. There was no word on the number of injuries.
Photos on state-run television's QQ microblog website showed at least four burned-out police cars and a bus in front of a police station with a scorched facade and broken windows. In front of the building, a pool of water was tinged with what looked like blood.
Lukqun is in Turpan prefecture, about 176 miles southeast of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang. In April, 21 people, including 15 police officers and local officials, were killed in Xinjiang in what authorities described as a raid on a separatist group that turned deadly.
Xinjiang is approaching the fourth anniversary of the 2009 riots, which left 197 people dead.
Nicole Liu and Tommy Yang in The Times' Beijing bureau contributed to this report.