Urumqi, Xinjiang province, China
Urumqi, Xinjiang province, China

The capital of China's ethnically divided Xinjiang region has banned the public wearing of head coverings traditionally donned by some Muslim women.

State media in Urumqi reported Thursday local Communist Party leaders approved the burqa ban during a meeting of the government's Standing Committee.

Authorities in Xinjiang have imposed an increasing number of restrictions on Muslim religious life, as they attempt to deal with a worsening wave of ethnic unrest.

Hundreds have been killed in recent years during a series of riots and attacks on government, and increasingly, civilian, targets in and around Xinjiang.

The government blames foreign-backed Muslim separatists for the violence. It has launched a wide-ranging crackdown, executing dozens and jailing hundreds this year alone.

But many in Xinjiang's predominantly Muslim Uighur ethnic group say discriminatory policies are driving the violence.

In addition to the burqa ban, Xinjiang authorities have at times prohibited men from wearing long beards on public buses. Some students have also been kept from fasting during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Many Uighurs also complain of economic disenfranchisement and preferential treatment toward the Han, China's largest ethnic group, which have moved into Xinjiang in waves.

China denies discriminating against the Uighurs, saying it is pouring money into the region and improving living standards.