BEIJING: Twenty people died when a group armed with knives attacked a market in Xinjiang, the latest outbreak of violence in the ethnically divided Chinese region, authorities said on Wednesday.
The motive behind the attack late on Tuesday was not immediately clear, but Xinjiang – a vast region home to the mainly Muslim Uighur minority – has suffered repeated outbreaks of ethnic unrest in recent years.
The Xinhua state news agency initially put the toll at 12 dead, including two assailants who it said were armed with knives.
But the official information website Tianshan said on Wednesday the death toll was 20, including 13 ‘innocent people’ and seven ‘terrorists’ who were killed by police.
“Nine violent terrorists rushed into the crowd with knives, killing 13 innocent people and wounding several others,” Tianshan said.
A police officer told AFP by telephone earlier that around a dozen Uighurs wielding axes attacked the market in the remote town of Yecheng, killing 10 people and police then shot five of the attackers dead.
Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan and Afghanistan, is home to around nine million Uighurs who complain of oppression under Chinese rule.
The number of Han – China’s dominant ethnic group – living in the region has increased dramatically over the past decade, which government critics say results from a policy of migration to dilute any Uighur nationalist tendencies.
“Most of the victims were Han people, but some were Uighurs. Five rioters were shot, not two, and they were all Uighurs,” the police officer, who gave his surname Tuo.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 1st, 2012.