China has vowed to ramp up patrols and “crack down upon terrorist groups” after staging large military exercises in the ethnically-divided Xinjiang region following clashes that killed at least 35 people.
Beijing also dispatched two high-ranking officials to the far western region on Saturday following a top level Chinese Communist Party (CCP) meeting presided over by Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平).
“We will step up actions to crack down upon terrorist groups and extremist organizations and track the wanted,” the CCP’s Political Consultative Conference chairman Yu Zhengsheng (俞正聲) said after arriving in the Xinjiang capital Urumqi, Xinhua news agency reported late on Saturday.
China often labels outbreaks of sporadic unrest in the region as terrorism — claims denied by rights groups for the mostly Muslim Uighur minority who blame unrest on economic inequality and religious repression.
Meng Jianzhu, another senior party official, was also in Urumqi making “detailed anti-terror arrangements,” it said.
Their visit and the exercises suggest Beijing sees maintaining stability as a priority ahead of the fourth anniversary on Friday of riots in Urumqi between members of Uighur and Han Chinese communities that left about 200 dead.
Xinhua also called for tough measures against those responsible for the recent “terror attacks” in a commentary yesterday.
Saturday’s exercises saw large sections of the city shut down as military vehicles took to the streets with at least 1,000 personnel from the People’s Armed Police, part of China’s armed forces responsible for law enforcement and internal security during peacetime.
Exiled Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer yesterday led a protest against the violence in Xinjiang outside the Chinese embassy in Tokyo.
Kadeer, the US-based head of the World Uyghur Congress who is visiting Japan, rested a white flower wreath on the embassy’s post box. She was joined by about 30 of her supporters.
“The situation there has been very severe. We have repeatedly called for dialogue with the Chinese government,” she said in a YouTube message recorded on Friday.
“We have called on China to change the policy and protect Uighur people’s human rights, but the government has no intention to listen to us,” she said.
State-run media on Saturday blamed more than 100 people it branded “terrorists” for sparking “riots” in Xinjiang the previous day.
The unrest occurred in the prefecture of Hotan, where a group “[attacked] a number of people with weapons after gathering at local religious venues”, the media said.
It followed clashes on Wednesday which left 35 dead, the worst to hit the western desert region — home to about 10 million members of the Uighur minority — since the 2009 riots.
“This is an overt provocation to the security of people’s lives and the country’s unity, which should be severely cracked down on with decisive measures since terrorism is the enemy of mankind,” the Xinhua commentary said yesterday.
“The atrocity was not a consequence of ethnic disputes or religious disagreements in Xinjiang,” it added, claiming that the unrest was due to an “intention to disrupt social stability and sabotage interests of the whole Chinese nation.”
Xinhua also reported yesterday that police had detained the “only rioter at large” following Wednesday’s violence.
Previous reports said 11 men were killed, while another four were arrested at the scene.
Hotan has reportedly been under a curfew since Friday night, and searches for the town on Chinese microblogging site Sina Weibo were blocked yesterday.
Meanwhile, the Web site of the Xinjiang Daily newspaper reported yesterday that 19 people had been arrested for spreading online “rumors.”