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China raises Xinjiang police station death toll to 18/ENG

2011. július 20./Guardian.co.uk/TibetPress

Police shot 14 'rioters' on Monday after guard was killed and six hostages taken in attack in riot-torn region, says state media.

Chinese security forces have raised the death toll from this week's attack at a police station in Xinjiang from at least four to 18, the state media reported on Wednesday.

The number of deaths and the cause of the unrest are contested, but it looks certain to be one of the deadliest encounters the restive western region has seen in recent years.

The Xinhua news agency reported that armed officers gunned down 14 "rioters" in Hotan on Monday after they attacked Na'erbage police station, hacked a security guard to death, started fires in the building and took six hostages.

"Shouting frantic religious slogans like 'Allah the only God', the rioters ran to the top floor and police opened fire to stop them," the report said, quoting an unnamed source. A policeman and two civilians also died in the attack, though it is unclear how.

The Xinjiang government website said the attackers used axes, knives, daggers, Molotov cocktails and explosive devices that had been smuggled into the desert city in the days before the assault. They reportedly hung a banner carrying "extremist religious slogans" on the top of the building.

The authorities also published three pictures purportedly taken on the scene of the incident, showing armed security personnel and a building on fire.

This account is disputed by overseas group pushing for greater independence for the indigenous Uighur – and predominantly Muslim – ethnic group in Xinjiang.

The Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC) said security forces beat 14 people to death and shot dead six others. It said the demonstrators took hostages to try to secure the release of local youths who had been taken away by the authorities after earlier protests.

"The Chinese authorities should immediately cease their systematic oppression to prevent a further escalation of the situation," said Dilxat Raxit, a WUC spokesman.

Xinjiang has had several murderous confrontations in recent years. In 2008, 16 police officers were killed in a raid on a paramilitary border police headquarters in Kashgar. The following year, the government says 197, mostly Han Chinese people were killed in a riot by Uighurs in the regional capital, Urumqi.

The unrest is a concern for the government in Beijing, which is dependent on Xinjiang for oil, gas and coal to power the economy. Many Han Chinese migrants have moved into the region to cash in on this boom, prompting resentment among the indigenous population.

There is a large military and police presence in the region, which border Pakistan and Afghanistan. Police in Hotan remain on high alert .


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