Police have arrested more suspects in connection with a clash between authorities and assailants that left 21 people dead in China’s western region of Xinjiang, state media reported Monday.
Eight suspects already were in custody following last Tuesday’s clash, which killed 15 police officers and local officials and six assailants. Authorities described the gang as terrorists.
The death toll was the highest for a single incident in months in Xinjiang, which sees recurrent outbreaks of violence pitting members of the Turkic Muslim Uighur (pronounced WEE’-gur) group against the authorities and majority ethnic Han Chinese migrants.
China Central Television said Monday that another group of suspects had been captured and interrogated, though it didn’t say how many. It said explosives also were seized. The report quoted the state anti-terrorist office and Meng Hongwei, the vice public security minister.
Meng was quoted by the official Xinhua News Agency as saying authorities had discovered a stash of homemade explosives, “lethal weapons,” and flags promoting the independence of Xinjiang, referred to by Uighur activists as East Turkistan.
Xinhua said Meng vowed an “iron-handed crackdown against terrorism,” saying police would use “every possible means to find and punish terrorists with no mercy.”
Also Monday, CCTV broadcast images of a memorial service for the police and officials killed in the clash. It said Meng attended the service, along with more than 1,000 people from local party and government departments.
Xinhua quoted Xinjiang Governor Nur Bekri as saying the incident was “not about ethnic or religious issues, but a terrorist act to split the motherland and undermine national unity.”
“The terrorists carried out the attacks on victims, without sparing people of their own ethnic group,” it quoted Bekri as saying at a ceremony to award posthumous honors to the dead officers and government workers.
A leading Uighur activist has questioned the official account of the incident. Local sources said police sparked it by shooting a Uighur youth during an illegal search of homes, according to Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the German-based World Uyghur Congress.
Authorities previously said 10 of those killed on the government side were Uighurs, three were Han and two were from the Mongolian ethnic group. It said two other Uighurs were hurt. The ethnicity of the assailants wasn’t given.
Xinjiang, a sprawling region that borders Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan, is home to millions of Uighurs, many of whom complain of tight restrictions on religious and cultural life by Beijing and say they have been marginalized by policies favoring Han migrants.
Beijing says it treats minorities fairly and spends billions of dollars on improving living standards in minority areas.
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