The mainland's top police officer yesterday promised tougher action against violent crime and terrorism to protect stability in Xinjiang, where Turkic-speaking Uygurs make up nearly half the population.
Xinhua quoted Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu as telling delegates to a national anti-terrorism work conference in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang, on Wednesday that everyone had to be well aware of the seriousness, complexity and long-term nature of the arduous anti-terrorist campaign.
'In an attempt to safeguard social stability and the safety of people's lives and assets, we must make the maintenance of stability the overriding priority in our jobs, while clamping down on violence and terrorist activities with more adamant determination and stronger measures,' Meng said.
The hardline stand taken by Meng, who is also the head of a national anti-terrorism taskforce, comes in the wake of at least three deadly attacks by Uygurs in the ancient cities of Hotan and Kashgar that claimed at least 32 lives, including those of 20 suspected assailants, and injured 44 others.
On July 18, nearly 20 Uygurs armed with knives and petrol bombs attacked a police station in Hotan, taking hostages. Dozens of armed policemen shot dead 14 assailants who had killed at least four people - an armed policeman, a Uygur police assistant and two Han Chinese women - authorities said.
Last weekend, at least 14 people were killed and 42 wounded in two attacks 24 hours apart by knife-wielding Uygurs in the centre of Kashgar.
Meng vowed an all-out effort to suppress and prevent violent crime and terrorism, while.
He stressed that all Chinese citizens were equal before the law, saying anyone who threatened the safety of civilians and their property or engaged in any form of violence or terrorism would be severely punished.
Xinjiang, which borders six countries in Central and South Asia, is home to more than a dozen predominantly Muslim minorities, the largest being the Uygurs, who make up 45 per cent of the population. The Han, who are mostly new settlers, account for 40 per cent but are concentrated in urban areas like Urumqi, the largest city in Central Asia. Uygurs are the majority in more far-flung places such as Kashgar and Hotan, historic centres on the ancient Silk Road that have long been considered hotbeds of the so-called 'three forces' - terrorism, extremism and separatism.
In Xinjiang, many Han complain about policies they see as discriminatory, such as allowing minorities to give birth to more than one child and giving non-Han students extra marks in their university entrance exams.
Many Uygurs resent the arrival of the Han and say they face discrimination in jobs and education and curbs on their religion.