05/01/2014, 00.00
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Xi Jinping's visit to Xinjiang ends in attack that leaves three dead, 79 injured

The government blames ethnic Uighurs of using knives to stab people and detonating explosives at a railway station in the provincial capital of Urumqi. Chinese President Xi, who had just left the region after a four-day visit, vowed to deploy a "strike-first approach against terrorists".

Urumqi (AsiaNews) - A violent attack, described by the authorities as a clear act of terrorism, rocked the capital of China's northeastern province of Xinjiang province last night. The area has been seething for a long time with ethnic tensions between China and ethnic Uighurs, the indigenous Turkic Muslim population.

Three people were killed and 79 were injured when a group of attackers used knives and detonated explosives at Urumqi's south railway station. China's President Xi Jinping had just concluded a visit to the region, the first since his election as head of state.

Xinjiang's local government said the attack began with an explosion at an exit of Urumqi South Station at around 7.10 pm as the train from Chengdu arrived.

"According to initial police investigations . . . the attackers used knives to stab people at the station exit, and detonated explosives at the same time," it was reported. The station was immediately closed.

In reacting to the incident, the Chinese president called on local authorities to take "decisive actions" to "suppress the terrorists' rampant momentum".

In Xi's view, "The battle to combat violence and terrorism will not allow even a moment of slackness," and that "it was essential" to "deeply understand Xinjiang separatism".

The province is one of the most turbulent in all of China. Its Uighur Muslim minority, who number about nine million, have long sought independence from China.

The central government, for its part, has brought in hundreds of thousands of settlers to make Han Chinese the dominant ethnic group.

At the same time, it has severely curtailed Muslim religious worship as well as the teaching of the local language and culture.

Since 2009 Chinese police and the military have held the region under a special regime, which Beijing imposed following clashes that left nearly 200 people dead. As a result of various episodes of violence, hundreds of long prison sentences were imposed and dozens of death penalties were carried out.

Chinese authorities blame Muslim extremists for the wave of violence. Uighur exiles claim instead that Beijing is "exaggerating" the threat of Islamic terrorism to justify repression against indigenous Uighurs.

For Beijing, Uighurs are responsible for the recent spate of violent attacks, including the 1 March 2014 attack at the Kunming railway station by knives-wielding men that left 29 people dead and more than 150 wounded, and the 28 October 2013 incident when an SUV plunged into a crowd in Tiananmen Square, then burst into flames, killing three people.

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