Rioting in western China has left at least 27 people dead, according to state media. The riots started when protesters attacked a police station and government offices. Police fired into the crowd in response.
The incident marked the worst violence Xinjiang has seen in years. The confrontation started in Lukqun, a township in Turpan Prefecture.
According to state-run Xinhua, mobs armed with knives attacked Lukqun’s police stations, a government building, and a construction site. As they went, the protesters stabbed people and set fire to police cars in the area.
Seventeen people were killed in the initial attack, including nine police officers and security guards. In response, the news agency explained that police fatally shot 10 rioters.
There was no explanation of what caused the riots in western China and no detailed information was given about the rioters. Xinjiang is a region troubled by ethnic tensions. Uighurs, a Muslim ethic minority, are frequently in contention with China’s Han majority. But in Turpan, Uighurs dominate.
Frequently, Uighurs also give very different reports of conflict than those reported by Chinese government officials. Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, which advocates for the region’s independence, explained that the riot was a response to increased detentions of Uighurs in recent months.
Previously, Chinese media reported that 21 people died in clashes with police in the area in April. The country claimed the violence was caused by “terrorists.” A Xinjiang court recently jailed nine people for “religious extremism.” But while this week’s riot in western China was violent, a clash in July 2009 involving the two groups killed about 200 people.
The clashes between the Uighur and Han groups resulted in a massive push for security in the region. Images from Wednesday’s deadly riots showed a body splayed on the road next to an abandoned, damaged police car. Another image showed burned vehicles near a police station gutted by fire. A nearby puddle appeared to be tainted with blood.