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China Accuses Ethnic Separatists in Xinjiang Killings

Uighur men ride their horse carts during a sandstorm as they deliver hay around the Paklamakan desert, some 100km [63 miles] east of Yecheng, in the region of Xinjiang, China, April 2008. (file photo)

The Chinese Foreign Ministry is accusing separatists in a restive ethnic Uighur region of northwestern China of attacking civilians, in violence that it says has killed at least 20 people, including seven Chinese policemen.

Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, speaking Wednesday, accused "violent terrorists" and separatists of launching the latest attacks in the city of Yecheng.

"We strongly oppose a small group of violent terrorists and separatists destroying the situation of peaceful development, stability and unity. We will also be vigilant against their 'black hands' and won't let their actions jeopardize the overall status of development in Xinjiang,'' said Hong.

A spokesman for the World Uighur Congress, Dilxat Raxit, said the violence in Yecheng, called Kargilik by Uighurs, erupted because locals could, in his words, "no longer bear China's systematic repression." A statement also accused Beijing of denying outlets for peaceful protests.

The Xinjiang region has been plagued in recent years by fighting between the indigenous Uighurs and Han Chinese. The worst of the clashes occurred in 2009, when Uighurs launched attacks against Han Chinese in the regional capital of Urumqi, leaving at least 197 people dead.

Eight people were killed in a shoot-out with police in December, during what Beijing described as the rescue of two herdsmen who had been kidnapped by "terrorists."

The Chinese government has blamed the violence in the resource-rich region on Islamist extremists.

But exile groups say the Turkic-speaking Uighurs are rioting over longstanding grievances. Uighurs say they are economically and culturally disadvantaged, and face widespread discrimination resulting from a massive influx of ethnic Han Chinese into the region.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.