China launches terror crackdown in restive west

Chinese security forces have launched a two-month "strike hard" crackdown against violence, terrorism and radical Islam following renewed ethnic violence in the restive western region of Xinjiang, the regional government said.

The campaign began Aug. 11 and will last through Oct. 15, and includes around-the-clock patrols of trouble spots, identity checks and street searches of people and vehicles, according to a notice posted Tuesday on the regional government's website.

Authorities will step up investigations of suspicious activity and deal with defendants even more harshly through accelerated trials, the notice said.

"Public security units at all levels across the region must strengthen the work of security, take strict precautions, and create fear and awe," it said.

The region's police department conceded that the number of rising violent incidents was on the rise, and pledged to "uncover the masterminds and organizers behind such activities."

"The frequency with which terrorist activities are carried out in the region is rising and it must be curbed," the department said in a statement late Tuesday.

China rolls out such crackdown campaigns on a regular basis despite criticism from rights groups over the trampling of rights of the accused and imposing tougher penalties for crimes from theft to endangering state security.

Signaling the authorities' determination to crush all opposition, Beijing earlier this month dispatched to Xinjiang its elite Snow Leopard anti-terrorism unit, which had been charged with securing the 2008 Beijing Olympics and is specially trained in anti-terrorism, riot control, bomb disposal and responding to hijackings.

The unit will bolster security for the annual China-Eurasia Expo, being held in the regional capital, Urumqi, the first week in September, along with National Day celebrations on Oct. 1.

The crackdown follows new outbreaks of violence blamed on militants among Xinjiang's native Uighur (pronounced WEE'-gur) population, ethnic Turks who are culturally, linguistically and religiously distinct from China's majority Han. Militants have for decades been fighting a low-level insurgency to gain independence for lightly populated but resource-rich Xinjiang, which borders Pakistan, Afghanistan and several unstable Central Asian states.

China generally keeps a tight lid on information about attacks in Xinjiang, and the overall level of violence is unclear. Uighur activists say even peaceful protests are often labeled acts of terrorism.

However, official reports said at least three dozen people, including the attackers, were killed in three attacks in the cities of Hotan and Kashgar, despite a massive security presence that was tightened following a major anti-Chinese riot in Urumqi two years ago in which at least 197 people were killed.

Beijing blames the violence on militants based overseas, specifically ones from the East Turkistan Islamic Movement who it says trained in militant camps in Pakistan.

Yet Beijing has provided no direct evidence, and analysts say they suspect its claims are driven more by ideology than proof. Uighur activists say harsh crackdowns only lead to greater anger among young Uighurs who already are feeling culturally and economically sidelined by waves of Han migration to the region.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the German-based World Uyghur Congress, said high-pressure tactics and "systematic persecution" of attempts to assert a Uighur identity would only encourage radicalism.

"China is ducking responsibility for the turmoil its own policies have created," Raxit said.