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Page last updated at 10:48 GMT, Wednesday, 2 April 2008 11:48 UK

China confirms Xinjiang protests

By Michael Bristow
BBC News, Beijing

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China has admitted that protests took place in a restive western region last month, days after unrest in Tibet.

Protesters "caused a disturbance" in the market town of Hotan in China's Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, according to the local government.

But there are conflicting reports about what caused the incident and the number of people involved.

Officials say protesters wanted independence for Xinjiang, but other reports blamed local disputes.

Xinjiang is a mostly Muslim region, many of whose inhabitants would like to see greater autonomy from Beijing.

Leaflets

According to Hotan local government, the incident took place on 23 March in the town's bazaar.

"A small number of the 'three forces'... attempted to incite the masses and provoke an incident," a press release said. No one was injured.

The "three forces" is a term used by the Chinese government for separatists, terrorists and extremists.

The press release went on to say that the public security bureau and the police stopped the protesters, who, it said, wanted to split the motherland.

Fu Chao, a spokesman for Hotan local government, told the BBC that several dozen protesters had distributed leaflets calling for demonstrations.

The protesters were calling on Uighurs, the main ethnic group in Xinjiang, to follow the lead of the Tibetans, he said.

Tibetans staged a series of protests in Tibet and other western provinces last month.

Mr Chao said most of the protesters had been arrested, and some of them had already been sent for "re-education".

Headscarf ban

But a report from Radio Free Asia (RFA), a US-funded broadcaster, said two local issues had led to the protests in Hotan, also spelt Khotan.

It said witnesses told the radio station that the death of a prominent local businessman and philanthropist while in custody had sparked anger.

Protesters were also demanding the authorities scrap a proposed headscarf ban in Hotan, an oasis town thousands of miles from Beijing, said RFA.

They also want China to stop using torture to suppress Uighur demands for greater autonomy, it added.

RFA also claims there were two protests in two locations in Hotan involving hundreds of people.

There has been sporadic violence in Xinjiang in recent years.

Chinese officials said last month that they had raided the hideout of what they called a terrorist group planning an attack on the Olympics.


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