Clashes between police and civilians in Xinjiang leave at least 21 dead
The incident in which 15 police officers and 6 civilians were killed remains unexplained. For Beijing, it was a "cowardly terrorist attack". Exiled Uighur groups deny the allegations.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Clashes between Uighur civilians and ethnic Han Chinese police broke out in the northern province of Xinjiang, leaving at least 21 people dead. According to local sources, the violence broke out last night in Selibuya Township, near Kashgar, one of the most turbulent areas of the province inhabited mostly by ethnic Uighur, a predominantly Turkic and Muslim ethnic group.

Chinese authorities claim that the six civilians who died in the incident were suspected terrorists, but groups associated with Rebiya Kadeer, a Uighur leader living in exile in Germany for the past three years for her pro-independence activities, deny that claim. Indeed, it is still unclear what actually happened.

According to the Xinhua, Communist China's official news agency, the incidents broke out in the afternoon in Kashgar, about 1,200 km from the capital Urumqi, when three community workers saw suspected terrorists armed with knives, hiding in the house of a local resident.

The workers warned their superiors but were captured by the suspects. When police arrived, they were attacked by the "terrorists", who killed the three community workers they held and set fire the house where they had corned the police. Eight suspected terrorists were arrested.

The province of Xinjiang has long been the scene of clashes and ethnic tensions. In 2009, it was  placed under special rule by China's police and army, following riots that had left nearly 200 people dead. After the bloody incident, hundreds of people were convicted and sent to prison; some people were given the death penalty.

Chinese authorities claim that the perpetrators of violence are Muslim extremists, but Uighur exiles counter that Beijing has exaggerated the threat of Islamic terrorism in order to justify its crackdown against the Uighur.