Chinese police arrest 200 'terrorists'

2014-05-26 19:14


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Beijing - Police in China's far-western Xinjiang region have arrested more than 200 suspects this month in what the government is calling a "war on terrorism," state media reported.

The reports said 23 religious extremist and terrorist groups have been shut down in the prefectures of Hotan, Kashgar und Aksu and more than 200 explosive devices have been seized in the operation, launched after a series of attacks that the government has blamed on ethnic Uighurs. Patrols by armed police have been stepped up in cities across China, the reports said.

The government is not only raising the security level across the country but is also turning the "war on terrorism" into a routine practice, Li Wei, director of counter-terrorism at the China Institute of International Studies, a government-administered think tank, told the official Xinhua news agency.

Human rights groups criticized the mass arrests and urged China to adopt a "change of strategy" to dampen the escalation of violence in Xinjiang, where most of the world's Uighurs live. The region's bloodiest attack in five years came on Thursday when a bombing of a crowded market in Urumqi, Xinjiang's capital, killed 39 people.

Four suspects were also killed, and one was taken into custody. Tensions have been rife for years between the Uighurs, a primarily Muslim Turkic ethnic minority, and the majority Han Chinese. Many Uighurs complain of cultural and religious repression and say Han migrants enjoy the main benefits of development in the resource-rich but economically backward region while the Chinese government accuses Uighur groups of separatism and terrorism.

Violent incidents frequently occur. In 2009 in Urumqi, about 200 people were killed in Uighur-Han clashes. The head of the Chinese Communist Party in Xinjiang, Zhang Chunxian, wrote in the party newspaper People's Daily of "a people's war against terrorism" while warning that it would be a long-term struggle.

Greater numbers of police were patrolling the streets and subways in bullet-resistant vests, and officers were stopping and checking travellers at train stations. Because police in China do not generally carry weapons, the Public Security Ministry began a three-month training programme for law enforcement on the use of firearms.

Xinjiang itself has carried out a crackdown since the first attack the government blamed on Uighur separatists, which occurred in March at a train station in the south-western city of Kunming when attackers armed with knives killed 29 people. Four suspects also died.

Police were quoted by Xinhua as saying that numerous suspects had been taken into custody since Thursday during raids on terrorist groups. Many of the suspects were in their 20s and 30s and had watched and learned how to assemble bombs from terrorist videos, police said.

The Society of Threatened Peoples, a Germany-based human rights group, said 480 Uighurs have been arrested for political reasons since the beginning of April. "By detaining more than 100 relatives of terrorism suspects and arbitrarily arresting women and girls who refuse to accept a ban on veils, Beijing is alienating the Uighur people," the group's Asia expert Ulrich Delius said.

"Only an authentic dialogue with moderate Uighurs will bring peace to the powder keg of Xinjiang." Uighurs make up about 8 million of the Xinjiang's 21.8 million people. 

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