BEIJING — Violent incidents have spread over the past week in a tense minority region of western China, just days before the fourth anniversary of a bloody clash between minority Uighurs and the ethnic Han majority that left almost 200 people dead and resulted in a major security clampdown.
China's communist authorities have labeled some of the incidents – including one that left 35 people dead – as terrorist attacks, and President Xi Jinping has ordered that the situation be promptly dealt with to safeguard overall social stability, state media has reported. A state-run newspaper said Saturday that authorities had beefed up security in the region.
The latest violence reportedly took place Friday in southern Xinjiang's Hotan area. In one incident, more than 100 knife-wielding people mounted motorbikes in an attempt to storm the police station for Karakax county, the state-run Global Times reported.
In another, an armed mob staged an attack in the township of Hanairike, according to the news portal of the Xinjiang regional government. It did not say what sort of weapons the mob had.
The official Xinhua News Agency reported a "violent attack" Friday afternoon on a pedestrian street in downtown Hotan city. No casualties were reported in any of the incidents, which state media said were quickly brought under control. The government's news portal, Tianshan Net, said there were no civilian casualties in Hanairike.
An exiled Uighur activist, Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, disputed those accounts, saying there were several protests in the Hotan area against what Uighurs see as China's suppressive policies in Xinjiang. He said 48 people were arrested.
"It's a crisis of survival," said Dilxat Raxit, who called for international observers to be sent to the region to help curb what he said was excessive violence against Uighurs by the Chinese government.
It has not been possible to independently verify the different accounts of the violence because of tight controls over information in the region.
The incidents Friday in Xinjiang came after what the government described as attacks on police and other government buildings Wednesday in eastern Xinjiang. The violence in Turpan prefecture's Lukqun township killed 35 people and was one of the bloodiest incidents since the July 5, 2009, unrest in the region's capital city, Urumqi, killed nearly 200.
Xinjiang (shihn-jeeahng) is home to a large population of minority Muslim Uighurs (WEE'-gurs) in a region that borders Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, and has been the scene of numerous violent acts in recent years.
Critics often attribute the violence in Xinjiang to what they say is Beijing's oppressive and discriminatory ethnicity policies. Many Uighurs complain that authorities impose tight restrictions on their religious and cultural life.
The Chinese government says that it has invested billions of dollars in modernizing the oil- and gas-rich region and that it treats all ethnic groups equally.
Calls to local government agencies were either unanswered or were responded to by people who said they were unauthorized to speak to reporters.
State-run media reported that the incident Wednesday started when knife-wielding assailants targeted police stations, a government building and a construction site – all symbols of Han authority in the region.
Photos released in state media show scorched police cars and government buildings and victims lying on the ground, presumably dead.
Dilxat Raxit also disputed that account, saying the violence started when police forcefully raided homes at night.
Xinhua said 11 assailants were shot dead, and that two police officers were among the 24 people they killed.
"This is a terrorist attack, there's no question about that," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Friday at a regular news briefing. "As to who masterminded it, local people are still investigating."
State news reports did not identify the ethnicity of the attackers, nor say what may have caused the conflict in the Turkic-speaking region. The reports said police captured four injured assailants.
The Global Times reported Saturday that police had stepped up security measures, deploying more forces to public areas, governmental institutes and police compounds. It said a suspect was captured Friday afternoon in Urumqi.