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China Vows Crackdown on Religious Extremists

China's state media say the top official in western Xinjiang region has ordered a harsh crackdown on religious extremists in the heavily Muslim region.

The official Xinhua news agency said Monday that Communist Party Secretary Zhang Chunxian has ordered officials to "unswervingly" curb illegal religious activities and crack down on the use of religion to incite violence.

The agency quoted Zhang saying it is government policy to protect the legitimate practice of religion while banning illegal practices.

The Chinese government has blamed Islamic religious extremists for a wave of violence in the region that have left more than 30 people dead. Exile spokesmen for the region's native Uighur population say the violence was prompted by harsh Chinese repression.

China charged that Pakistani-trained Islamic extremists led an attack eight days ago in the Silk Road city of Kashgar in which knife-wielding assailants set a restaurant on fire and killed at least six people before being killed or captured by police.

Seven people were killed a day earlier when attackers jumped out of a hijacked truck and began slashing at bystanders.

Two weeks earlier, officials reported killing 14 rioters who attacked a police station in Hotan city. A Uighur exile group disputed the official account, quoting witnesses who said police had fired into a crowd of peaceful demonstrators.

Tensions have been high in Xinjiang since ethnic riots two years ago between Uighurs and Han Chinese that left about 200 people dead. The mainly Muslim Uighurs complain they are economically and culturally disadvantaged compared to the region's growing Han Chinese population.