Reuters : China Locks Down Kashgar After Attacks on Police (Update1)

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

China Locks Down Kashgar After Attacks on Police (Update1)

By Dune Lawrence | Bloomberg | August 5, 2008

Police locked down Kashgar, cutting Internet access in China's westernmost major city and detaining journalists, after an attack yesterday by members of the Uighur ethnic group killed 16 officers, according to media reports.

Web access was shut today in the city, Agence-France [Presse reported], citing the staff of Yiquan Hotel, across the road from where yesterday's attack occurred. Two reporters working for Japan's Chunichi newspaper and Nippon Television Network were detained by police for two hours and beaten before being released, Kyodo English News said, citing the journalists' employers.

Police detained two suspects after yesterday's attack, describing them as ethnic Uighurs, a predominantly Muslim minority group in Xinjiang province, state-owned Xinhua News Agency said. The authorities, counting Xinjiang's East Turkistan Islamic Movement as China's largest terror threat, have clamped down on the region's security and detained Uighur suspects ahead of the Olympic Games which start in Beijing on Aug. 8.

``The Chinese authorities have a right to protect the life and security of their law enforcement officials,'' Amnesty International said in a statement yesterday after Xinhua reported the incident in Kashgar, known in Chinese as Kashi. ``However, attacks such as these should not be used to justify the promotion or implementation of repressive or abusive security measures.''

Police Said Sorry

Kairat Salief, the Xinjiang government's spokesman, today declined to comment on AFP's report of Kashgar's lockdown or Kyodo's report of the Japanese journalists' beating.

``We cannot comment on ongoing police investigations, but we can promise we'll get to the bottom of this,'' Kairat said in a phone interview from Urumqi, Xinjiang's provincial capital.

Provincial border patrol police and the Kashgar foreign affairs department today apologized to the Japanese reporters, Xinhua said, without naming any of the officials.

China has been fighting the East Turkistan Islamic Movement in Xinjiang since the 1980s, trying to wipe out militants who aim to establish an independent state for Uighurs along the border with Tajikistan.

Kashgar's population of 3.3 million people is 90 percent Uighur, mostly Muslims who speak a different language and bear little resemblance to ethnic-Han Chinese.

Two men yesterday drove a truck into a platoon of border patrol policemen on their morning jog, killing 16 of them and injuring another 16, Xinhua said yesterday. The two also threw home-made grenades and hacked at the officers with machetes, Xinhua said, citing local police.

`Sickening' Assault

A Polish couple who witnessed the assault from the Yiquan Hotel described the scene as ``sickening,'' AFP reported.

Police found nine home-made bombs, a gun, machetes and literature about a ``holy war'' at the scene of the attack, China's Public Security Ministry said today in a statement without giving further details.

Chinese police arrested 82 people in the first six months of 2008 on charges of plotting terror attacks during the Olympics, underscoring the potential threat as China prepares to host its biggest international event.

With 4 billion television viewers projected to tune in to the opening ceremony, where more than 40 heads of state and government leaders may be in attendance, China wants to ensure the games go off safely.

``We can guarantee a safe and peaceful Olympic Games,'' the Beijing Olympics organizing committee spokesman Sun Weide told reporters today.

China's Security Threat

The Asian nation has said that terrorism poses one of the biggest threats to security, and named the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, which Beijing accuses of trying to split Xinjiang from China, as planning attacks. The Bush administration declared the group a terrorist organization in 2002, supporting the Chinese army's crackdown in Xinjiang.

Police in Kashgar have set up road blocks to check passengers, bags and vehicles, according to Xinhua. Armed traffic police have been patrolling buses in Urumqi since early July, Xinhua reported.

The Uighur people -- also spelt Uyghur -- condemn all acts of violence, the AFP reported yesterday, citing Rebiya Kadeer, president of the Washington D.C.-based Uyghur American Association. She urged caution in evaluating the Chinese government's reports of terrorist attacks by the group because the government routinely fails to provide evidence to back such reports, the AFP said.

Journalists' Beatings

Chunichi's newspaper photographer Masami Kawakita, 38, and Nippon Television's reporter Shinji Katsuta, 37, suffered light injuries after they were taken from their hotel by police and beaten, Kyodo said today. Kawakita's equipment was partially destroyed, Kyodo said.

The border police have apologized after they ``clashed'' with the journalists who were trying to film a restricted area under police control, Xinhua said today without providing details.

Police also entered the hotel room of an AFP photographer and forced him to delete photos he had taken of the attack scene, AFP said in a separate report.

To contact the reporter on this story: Dune Lawrence in Beijing at