China recruiting 8 000 police
Beijing - Authorities in China's volatile Xinjiang region plan to recruit 8 000 extra police officers, a government official said on Tuesday, as they beef up security in the remote area.
The Asian powerhouse is gearing up for a major leadership transition later this year, and authorities are clamping down on dissidents and strengthening security in volatile areas in a bid to avoid unrest.
Xinjiang - a vast region in China's northwest that is home to around nine million mostly Muslim Uighurs who complain of oppression under Chinese rule - has been hit by sporadic bouts of violent unrest in the past few years.
Hou Hanmin, a spokesperson for the Xinjiang government, said authorities planned to employ the first batch of new police officers - around 4 000, or half of the proposed total - this year.
"We are expanding the presence of police forces... The main purpose is because we don't have enough police doing rural work," she said.
In the last unrest in the region, seven people were killed in Pishan county in December in what the government described as a hostage rescue operation after "terrorists" kidnapped two people.
Exiles, however, said the incident was a conflict between regular Uighurs and policemen prompted by mounting discontent over a crackdown and religious repression in the area.
The region was also hit by three deadly attacks last July that left dozens dead.
The government blames much of the violence in the resource-rich region on extremism, separatism and terrorism but some experts doubt terror cells operate in Xinjiang, where Turkic-speaking Uighurs practise a moderate form of Islam.
The planned increase in security in Xinjiang comes as authorities have locked down an area almost the size of the United Kingdom in the southwestern province of Sichuan after deadly clashes in Tibetan-inhabited areas last week.
Several high-profile dissidents have also recently been given lengthy prison sentences on charges of subversion.