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Clash in China's Xinjiang region kills 16

BEIJING -- Sixteen people were killed in a clash in China's restive Xinjiang region, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority, reports and activists said Monday, less than two months after a fiery attack in Tiananmen Square.

Police attempting to detain criminal suspects in Shufu county near the Silk Road city of Kashgar, deep in far western China, were attacked by several “thugs” armed with explosive devices and knives, reported the tianshannet news portal, which is run by the Xinjiang government.

Two police officers were killed and 14 of the “thugs” shot dead on Sunday, it said, adding that two criminal suspects were detained.

But an overseas Uighur rights group said police had broken into a house where members of the ethnic minority were “gathering” and opened fire first.

All 14 people killed by police were Uighurs and two of them were minors, Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, told AFP.

“The abusive use of force by authorities in the area has deprived the Uighurs of their right to live,” he said.

The incident comes less than two months after an attack in Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of the Chinese state, when according to police, three Xinjiang Uighurs ploughed into crowds of tourists, killing two people and injuring 40, before crashing outside the Forbidden City and setting their vehicle ablaze.

All three attackers — named by authorities as Usmen Hasan, his wife and his mother — died.

Beijing described the assault, the first blamed on Uighurs outside Xinjiang, as “terrorism” and said separatists backed by the militant East Turkestan Islamic Movement were responsible.

But outside experts pointed to the unsophisticated nature of the attack and the lack of an established Islamist extremist foothold in China.

Xinjiang, a vast area bordering Pakistan and Central Asia beyond the furthest reaches of the Great Wall, has followed Islam for centuries.

For years it has seen sporadic unrest by Uighurs which rights groups say is driven by cultural oppression, intrusive security measures and immigration by China's Han majority, but Beijing attributes to religious extremists, terrorism and separatism.

China's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the latest incident “shows once again the anti-human and anti-society nature of the terrorist groups.”

“This kind of attempt will not win public support and is doomed to failure,” she told reporters at a regular briefing.

Authorities in Kashgar were not immediately available for comment when contacted by AFP.

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