Chinese authorities have claimed to have shot dead six people during a "terrorist" attack in the western region of Xinjiang, with six more dying when the explosives they were carrying detonated, according to the state news agency.

Xinhua said that police came under attack on Friday in Xinjiang, which is home to a large ethnic minority Uighur population. 

"During the process of tackling a terrorist case in Xinhe county, they were attacked by thugs who were throwing explosive devices," Xinhua said. Five suspects were captured and one policeman was slightly injured.

However Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the Munich-based World Uighur Congress, said the unrest started when Uighurs protested against the sale of pigs in the market on Fridays, a Muslim holy day, and said that the hair salon was a brothel in disguise.

"The Chinese vendors used to sell pork by jin (pound), but now they are hanging up the entire carcasses,'' Raxit said.

He said police opened fire on the crowds and on a vehicle that was leaving, causing its fuel tank to explode.

"It is not possible for the Uighurs to have weapons, given the tight controls by the authorities,'' said Raxit.

At least 91 people, including several policemen, have been killed in violence in Xinjiang since last April, according to state media reports.

Rights groups say China has overplayed the threat posed by activists from the large Uighur minority, Muslims who speak a Turkic language, to justify tough controls in energy-rich Xinjiang.

The region lies on the borders of ex-Soviet Central Asia, India and Pakistan. Eleven people believed to be members of an armed group of ethnic Uighurs were killed in Kyrgyzstan after illegally crossing into the former Soviet republic from China, Kyrgyz border guards said on Friday.

Source: Agencies