BEIJING – A city government said Monday that six more civilians died and five “terrorist” suspects were killed by police in one of China’s most troubled ethnic regions, raising the death toll from weekend violence to 18.
Xinijang region in China’s far west has been on edge since nearly 200 people were killed in fighting between Uighurs and Han Chinese in 2009 in Urumqi, the regional capital.
Xinhua did not give a reason for the latest violence, but Xinjiang has been beset by ethnic conflict and a sometimes-violent separatist movement by Uighurs, a largely Muslim ethnic group that sees Xinjiang as its homeland. Many Uighurs say they have been marginalized as more majority Han Chinese move into the region.
Police killed four suspects Sunday after “a group of armed terrorists” stormed into a restaurant in Kashgar city center, killing the owner and a waiter and then setting the restaurant on fire, the Kashgar city government said in two statements on its websites.
They then ran out of the restaurant and stabbed civilians indiscriminately, leaving another four people dead and 12 injured, it said.
Police then opened fire and shot dead four suspects at the scene, while another suspect died later in a hospital, it said.
The statement called it a “premeditated terrorist attack.”
Sunday’s violence followed a day of clashes in the same Silk Road city that killed seven people and injured 22.
It was unclear who started the clashes in Kashgar. But an overseas ethnic activist group said Sunday that it feared the violence could prompt a new crackdown on minority Uighurs blamed for previous violence in the region.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the German-based World Uyghur Congress, said that frustrations were forcing Uighurs to take to the streets.
“Uighurs have no peaceful way to oppose the Chinese government so some have taken to extreme measures. It is unthinkable but it is the reality, and Beijing should take responsibility to deal with these issues,” he told The Associated Press from Sweden, where he is based.
China defends its treatment of minorities, saying all ethnic groups in the country are treated equally and that tens of billions of dollars in investment and aid have dramatically raised living standards.
On Saturday night, two knife-wielding men hijacked a truck in Kashgar, then rammed the vehicle into a crowd and got out to attack pedestrians, a police official said.
The attackers’ identities and motive were unclear.
People who came under attack retaliated, and one of the suspects was killed and the other caught, said the official from the Xinjiang regional public security bureau.
A total of seven people died and 22 were injured, she said. Xinhua said six bystanders and one suspect were killed.
The official said the case was under investigation and that the motive was unclear. She refused to give her name, as is common with Chinese officials.
In another violent incident less than two weeks ago, police shot 14 rioters who attacked a police station and killed four people in Hotan city, 300 miles (500 kilometers) southeast of Kashgar, Xinhua said.
Xinjiang is China’s Central Asian frontier, bordering Pakistan, Afghanistan, Russia and other countries. Kashgar was an important hub on the ancient route through which Chinese silk and other goods reached Europe.