Violence in China’s Xinjiang Province fuels online debate over the role of ethnic Uighurs.
A clash in China’s far western region of Xinjiang, home to the country’s mostly Muslim Uighur minority, has left nearly 100 people dead or wounded, according to an exile group.
Wednesday’s announcement of the fatalities figure came after the attack was reported by Chinese state media late on Tuesday.
Xinhua, China’s official news agency, described the incident as a “terrorist attack”, and said a gang armed with knives and axes had attacked a police station and government offices, before moving on to a township.
“Police officers at the scene shot dead dozens of members of the mob,” the news agency Xinhua said.
Xinhua did not give a precise breakdown of the casualties, but Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, an exile group, said in an email that nearly 100 people were killed and wounded during the clash.
The violence came, he said, when “Uighurs rose up to resist China’s extreme ruling policy and were met with armed repression resulting in dead and injured on both sides”, AFP reported.
Raxit had said earlier that more than 20 Uyghurs were killed and 10 wounded, while a total of 13 armed Chinese personnel were killed or wounded and about 67 people were arrested.
The violence erupted in Shache county, or Yarkant in the Uighur language, near the edge of the Taklamakan desert in the west of the vast region.
Hotel and restaurant staff in Shache contacted by AFP said they had no knowledge of the incident.
Xinhua said the violence was “organised and premeditated”.
China commonly blames separatists from Xinjiang for carrying out attacks which have grown in scale over the past year and spread outside the resource-rich region.
Among the incidents was a market attack in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, in May in which 39 people were killed, and an attack by knife-wielding assailants at a train station at Kunming in China’s southwest in March, which left 29 dead.
They came after a fiery vehicle crash at Tiananmen Square, Beijing’s symbolic heart, in October last year.
Rights groups accuse China’s government of cultural and religious repression which they say fuels unrest in Xinjiang, which borders Central Asia.
The government, however, argues it has boosted economic development in the area and that it upholds minority rights in a country with 56 recognised ethnic groups.