China unrest: Xinjiang's Zhang Chunxian vows crackdown

Armed Chinese police in Kashgar on 4 August 2011 Tensions are high in Kashgar following violence at the end of July

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The top Communist Party official in Xinjiang has promised a harsh crackdown on terrorism and religious extremism in the restive western region in China.

Zhang Chunxian was responding to unrest in two cities last month that left dozens of people dead and injured.

Beijing has blamed much of the violence on Uighur Islamic militants.

But exiled Uighur groups say resentment at decades of heavy-handed rule by Beijing - and the influx of majority Han Chinese - is the real cause.

"[We] must maintain a strike-hard policy in the crackdown against terrorists... to resolutely curb the continued occurrences of violent terrorist cases," Mr Zhang told party members at a meeting on Friday.

He also pledged to fight leaders of "religious extremist forces" and crack down on "the planning and implementation of terrorist violence that makes use of violence", AFP quoted a statement on the regional government website as saying.

The BBC's Michael Bristow in Beijing says officials often link religious extremism with terrorism when they talk about Xinjiang.

Uighurs, who are Turkic-speaking Muslims with cultural and ethnic links to Central Asia, make up almost half of Xinjiang's population.

China has invested heavily in Xinjiang and the region's rich oil and gas deposits are vital to China's booming economy.

But many Uighurs complain that large-scale migration of Han Chinese workers from the east has forced them out of jobs and livelihoods.

In mid-July, a group of armed rioters attacked a police station in the south-western city of Hotan - leaving at least 18 people dead.

In the city of Kashgar, more than 20 people were killed in a weekend of violence at the end of July.

The detention of young men without trial after the anniversary of deadly rioting in the regional capital Urumqi in July 2009, the confiscation of farmland for redevelopment and the demolition of houses in Kashgar were some of the reasons given for the violence.

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