Page last updated at 12:12 GMT, Friday, 6 March 2009

China warns on Xinjiang stability


Maintaining stability in restive Xinjiang will be a more difficult task this year, a top Chinese official says.

Xinjiang parliament chairman Nur Bekri said China feared unrest and militancy in neighbouring countries could spread into its north-western province.

China enforces tight controls in Xinjiang and rejects calls from its Muslim Uighur people for self-rule.

Nur Bekri also confirmed that three people who set themselves on fire in Beijing last week were from Xinjiang.

The married couple and their son were involved in a dispute with the local government over the demolition of their home, he said.

The couple were in hospital with severe burns, Xinhua news agency quoted him as saying.

'More severe'

Nur Bekri made his comments on the sidelines of the National People's Congress, China's annual session of parliament, in Beijing.

Ethnically Turkic Muslims, mainly in Xinjiang
Made bid for independent state in 1940s
Sporadic violence in Xinjiang since 1991
Uighurs worried about Chinese immigration and erosion of traditional culture

"We don't believe that hostile forces from home and abroad will give up," Reuters news agency quoted him as saying.

"I'm afraid we will face a more severe situation in maintaining stability than last year, our task will probably be heavier, and the struggle will probably be fiercer," he said.

Uighur separatists have waged a low-level campaign against Chinese rule for decades. China blamed a series of violent attacks in August 2008 on separatist militants.

But campaigners accuse China of exaggerating the threat to justify tough security clampdowns in the region, while the US State Department accuses the government of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

In a report released last month, it said that "severe cultural and religious repression" of ethnic minorities in Xinjiang had increased.

Dissidents were being detained and harassed, and tight controls on freedom of speech and the internet were being maintained, it said.

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