|Recent weeks have seen an upswing in violence in several cities of Xinjiang, whose citizens are mainly Uighur [Reuters]
The Chinese government has ordered a sweeping security clampdown in the western Xinjiang region, the country's top police official has said, in the aftermath of deadly attacks last weekend.
"Those criminals who dare to test the law and commit violent terrorist acts will be shown no leniency, no appeasement and no soft heart," Meng Jianzhu, the public security minister, said.
Meng's comments on Thursday came nearly a week after ethnic Uighur assailants stormed a restaurant in the city of Kashgar, killing the owner and a waiter, and then hacking four people to death on a nearby street.
State media said at least 14 were killed and 42 injured in two separate incidents on Saturday and Sunday in the city, which China has blamed on Islamic fighters.
The attacks were the latest in several bursts of violence that have jolted Xinjiang, where many Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim Turkic-speaking people, resent the influx of Han Chinese.
"No matter who it is, if they have broken the law, if they have jeopardised the people's lives and property, if they have engaged in splitting the country or impaired ethnic unity, they will be firmly handled according to law," Meng said.
Damaging 'ethnic unity'
Meng made the comments, posted to the government's website , during an anti-terrorism meeting in Xinjiang's capital Urumqi.
"Recent occurrences of violent terrorist crimes in Xinjiang have caused numerous casualties among innocent people, and seriously impacted Xinjiang's economic and social development and ethnic unity," he said.
Those words were the closet Meng came to explicitly referring to the weekend's violence.
He avoided any mention of Pakistan, where China had said that separatist groups receive training.
China's foreign ministry on Wednesday praised Pakistan as a firm partner against terror and religious extremism, playing down the risk that ties could be strained.
Many Uighurs complain of discrimination in the job market, and say government efforts to boost development in Xinjiang have mainly benefited the Han majority, and attracted more to move there.
Since the attacks in Kashgar, tensions have been high, with security forces and checkpoints blanketing the city.
On July 18, 18 people, including 14 "rioters," were killed in an attack on a police stationin the city of Hotan, according to the government.
In July 2009, Urumqi was rocked by violence between Han Chinese and Uighurs that killed nearly 200 people.
Meng said the Communist Party's work possessed a strategic significance in Xinjiang, a region which accounts for a sixth of the country's land mass and holds deposits of oil and gas.
China must work to deepen ethnic-unity education and let all ethnic groups feel the "warm concern" of the government and the party, Meng said.