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40 ‘rioters’ killed in China’s Xinjiang: State media

Six civilians, two police officers and two auxiliary police were killed in the attacks in Xinjiang’s Luntai county

Published: Updated:

Forty “rioters” were killed Sunday in China's far-western Xinjiang region after a series of coordinated explosions, state media said Thursday.

Six civilians, two police officers and two auxiliary police were also killed in the attacks in Xinjiang's Luntai county, with 54 civilians injured, according to Tianshan, the regional government news portal.

Two “rioters” were captured, it added, while the main suspect, whose name was given as Mamat Tursun, was shot dead.

Chinese state media had previously stated that only two people had been killed in the incident. China's ruling Communist Party tightly restricts access to the restive region, and information is difficult to independently verify.

According to the Tianshan report, the “organised and serious” attack comprised four explosions that took place Sunday evening at two police stations, an outdoor market and at the entrance to a shop.

Among the 54 civilians injured were 32 members of China's mostly Muslim Uighur minority and 22 Han Chinese, it said.

The 40 “rioters” killed had either blown themselves up or were shot dead by police, Tianshan said.

Police said that Mamat Tursun, the ringleader of Sunday's attack, had “been operating as an extremist” since 2003 and had “called on other people to join his terrorist group when working on construction projects”, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The attacks took place days before the sentencing of prominent Muslim Uighur scholar Ilham Tohti, who was on trial on charges of separatism.

The former university professor, who is critical of Beijing's policies in the vast western region, was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday.

The United States, the European Union, and several human rights groups have called for the release of Tohti, 44, whose prosecution risks silencing moderate Uighur voices and cutting off the possibility of dialogue, analysts say.

Critics also warned his conviction could add to tensions in the restive region.

In the past year, escalating violence between locals and security forces in Xinjiang -- the traditional homeland of the Uighurs' -- has claimed more than 200 lives and prompted Beijing to launch a security crackdown.

Among the most shocking attacks was a May assault on a market in the regional capital Urumqi, where more than 30 people were killed, and a deadly rampage by knife-wielding assailants at a train station at Kunming in China's southwest in March, which left 29 dead.

Beijing blames ongoing unrest in the region on organised terrorists seeking independence from China, while rights groups say cultural and religious repression of Uighurs has stoked violence.

China's supreme court on Sunday distributed new wide-ranging guidelines on prosecuting terrorism cases.

“Making and showing banners and other material of religious extremism will be criminalised,” the state-run Xinhua news agency said in a summary of the regulations.

The court also said that the use of insults such as “religious traitor” and “heretic”, could lead to criminal conviction.

Xinjiang, a resource-rich region which abuts Central Asia, is home to about 10 million Uighurs, who mostly follow Sunni Islam.