Clashes in China’s Xinjiang region have left 21 people dead, including 15 police and officials, the local government says.
The incident occurred on Tuesday afternoon in Bachu County, Kashgar as gun fights broke out after police went to search the home of locals suspected of possessing illegal knives, a report on Tianshan Net, a government-run news website, said.
It said 15 of those killed were either police or social workers, with 11 of them being members of China’s Uighur ethnic minority, who live mainly in Xinjiang and are mostly Muslim.
A further six “gang members” were shot dead in the violence, while eight more were arrested, the report said, without giving their identities.
There have been sporadic clashes in Xinjiang in recent years amid rumbling ethnic tensions between the Muslim Uighur and Han Chinese communities. In 2009 almost 200 people were killed after deadly riots erupted.
Officials and state media blame the unrest on “terrorists” but some experts say the government has produced little evidence of an organised terrorist threat, adding the violence stems more from long-standing local resentment.
China has repeatedly accused ethnic Uighurs of carrying out terrorist activities in the province, where 20 men were jailed in March on terrorism charges, which a Uighur rights group branded “repressive.”
Riots between Uighurs and members of China’s Han ethnic majority in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi in 2009 killed around 200 people, leading the ruling Communist Party to tighten surveillance and boost investment in the region.
The province saw more than half of China’s “endangering state security” trials last year, but is home to less than two percent of the country’s population, suggesting “ethnic discrimination”, the Dui Hua Foundation advocacy group said.
According to official figures, 46 percent of Xinjiang’s population is Uighur, while another 39 percent are Han Chinese, after millions moved to the area in recent decades.