URUMQI, China (Reuters) - A member of China’s restive Uighur minority killed seven people on Thursday in an explosion in far western Xinjiang, an official said, a region which has long been the scene of ethnic tension and occasional violence.
Police arrested a Uighur suspect who drove a three-wheeled vehicle into a crowd in a town near the southern Xinjiang city of Aksu, Xinjiang government spokeswoman Hou Hanmin told a news conference in the regional capital, Urumqi.
Hou said evidence indicated the blast was intentional.
She did not say what the motive for the attack may be. Chinese cities are occasionally hit by small explosions carried out by people with personal grievances, such as disputes over medical treatment or failed relationships.
Beijing often blames what it calls violent separatist groups in Xinjiang for attacks on police or other government targets, saying they work with al Qaeda or Central Asian militants to bring about an independent state called East Turkestan.
“Xinjiang’s development will not be affected by a small group of bad people. The overall situation in Xinjiang is good,” Hou told a news conference for foreign reporters on a pre-arranged trip to the region.
“I repeat what our governor said this morning: hostile elements are always there, in the past, present and in the future. They don’t target any particular ethnic group since casualties are also minorities. They are the common enemy of the Xinjiang people.”
Many Uighurs -- a Muslim, Turkic-speaking people native to the region -- chafe under rule from Beijing and restrictions on their language, culture and religion.
They now make up less than half of Xinjiang’s population after decades of immigration by the majority Han from other parts of China.
In July last year, Urumqi was convulsed by deadly ethnic unrest after a protest by Uighurs gave way to street killings and riots that left at least 197 dead, most of them Han Chinese.
In June, the government said it had broken up a “terrorist” cell planning attacks in the southern Xinjiang cities of Kashgar, Hotan and Aksu.
All those killed or injured in the latest blast were members of ethnic minorities, Hou said. She did not specific their ethnicity.
Uighur exiles accuse China of whipping up the threat posed by armed separatists to justify harsh crackdowns in Xinjiang.
China has promised to increase investment in oil-and-coal rich Xinjiang, strategically located on China’s Central Asian and Pakistan borders, to try to soothe income disparities that have contributed to ethnic violence.
Money has been especially earmarked for the relatively poorer south part of Xinjiang, heavily populated by Uighurs.
“It’s true that for historic and natural development reasons, Xinjiang has seen unbalanced development, especially the three prefectures of Southern Xinjiang,” governor Nur Bekri told reporters earlier in the day. “We will make southern Xinjiang a focal point.”
Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Chris Buckley