Members of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) held a minute’s silence on Monday for the victims of a brutal knife attack killed in China’s southwestern city of Kunming at the weekend.
The attack in the capital city of Yunnan province left 33 dead in total on Saturday, including four of the attackers shot dead by police, and wounded 143.
Meanwhile, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Monday said evidence from the scene pointed fingers at a separatist group allegedly responsible for violence in the country’s northwest.
“According to preliminary results, we have found flags at the scene flags belonging to the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM),” said foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang.
The foreign ministry also blamed the group for a suicide car attack in the capital Beijing last year.
One CPPCC representative from Xinjiang said he did not think it was a religiously motivated attack.
“We are very upset,” said Abulilaiti Ahmedtohti. “This has happened in China in the midst of a great development of our nation and our region Xinjiang. It has nothing to do with Islam, we Muslims are not violent.”
The far western region of Xinjiang is home to a simmering rebellion against Chinese rule by some members of the Muslim Uighur population, and the government has responded there with heavy-handed security.
Most attacks blamed on Uighur separatists take place in Xinjiang, where clashes between ethnic Uighurs and members of China’s ethnic Han majority are frequent, but Saturday’s assault happened more than 1,500 kilometres (932 miles) to the southeast in Yunnan, which has not had a history of such unrest.
The attack was the deadliest violence attributed to Uighur-Han conflicts since riots in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi in 2009, in which Uighurs stormed the streets of the city, targeting Han people in seemingly random violence that included the killing of women and children.
A few days later, Han vigilante mobs armed with sticks and bats attacked Uighurs in the same city. Nearly 200 people died.
The recent violence in Kunming came at a sensitive time, with political leaders in Beijing preparing for Wednesday’s opening of the annual legislature, where Xi’s government will deliver its first one-year work report.
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