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China Says 14 Uighurs Were Killed in Police Station Assault

Chinese authorities say police killed 14 people during a battle with Uighur protesters who seized a police station and took hostages in western Xinjiang region this week.

The number was made public Wednesday in the first detailed account of Monday's incident. Officials previously announced only the deaths of two security officers and two hostages.

A Uighur exile group based in Geneva offered a much different account of the incident, saying police gunned down 20 peaceful protesters in a nearby market. The group urges that official Chinese accounts be viewed with "extreme skepticism."

China's official Xinhua news agency said Wednesday its reporters were permitted to tour the police station in the desert city of Hotan, where they saw burned and broken office equipment and other articles.

The agency quoted police as saying 18 "ruffians" sneaked into the city last week and, on Monday, attacked the police station with axes, knives, daggers and explosive devices. Police say the men hacked to death one security guard while entering the station, which they smashed and set on fire.

Police said the men took six civilians and several police officers hostage. They said two hostages and one policemen were killed when additional officers fought their way into the building.

The World Uyghur Congress, meanwhile, says it has heard from witnesses that the killings took place not at the police station but at a nearby market, where police fired into a crowd of about 100 peaceful demonstrators. It said at least 20 people were killed and another 12 were seriously injured, while more than 70 were arrested.

The WUC said the demonstrators had gathered to protest a two-week-old police crackdown and demand information about relatives who had disappeared into police custody. The group said information is hard to obtain because roads have been closed and martial law has been imposed in the city.

It is not possible to independently verify the claims of either side, because it is difficult for outsiders to visit Xinjiang, and the Chinese government has tight control on telecommunications in the region.

Xinjiang in the past has been the scene of violent clashes between ethnic Han Chinese and its native Uighur population. The Chinese government says almost 200 people were killed during ethnic rioting in the region in 2009.

Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking community, have long complained that the Chinese government suppresses Muslim religious practices and has encouraged millions of ethnic Han Chinese to migrate to the region, pushing Uighurs out of jobs.

Beijing denies those allegations and says it has done much to improve Xinjiang’s economy and protect the rights of minorities. In the past, Chinese authorities have blamed separatists for unrest in the region.

Some information for this report was provided by Reuters and AFP