BEIJING Chinese forces have launched a "strike hard" security campaign in the restless far western region of Xinjiang, vowing to wipe out lawlessness and "change the face" of the public security situation there.
Xinjiang's regional capital Urumqi has been rocked by ethnic violence twice this year, in which a total of around 200 people died..
In Xinjiang's worst ethnic violence in decades, Uighurs attacked Han Chinese in Urumqi in July, after taking to the streets to protest against attacks on Uighur workers at a factory in southern China in June that left two Uighurs dead.
Han Chinese in Urumqi sought revenge two days later against the Uighurs, a Turkic ethnic group that calls Xinjiang its homeland. A series of claimed needle stabbings by Uighurs in September stoked fresh protests led by Han Chinese.
Now the regional government is demanding tough action to bring stability back to the region, Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily reported on Tuesday.
"From the start of November, public security bodies in Xinjiang will ... start a thorough 'strike hard and punish' campaign to further consolidate the fruits of maintaining stability and eliminate security dangers," it said.
Security forces would "root out places where criminals breed, and change the face of the public security situation in these areas," the report said.
The term "strike hard" harkens back to the 1980s, when Chinese police forces launched campaign-like sweeps intended to catch law-breakers. Pro-reform legal experts in China later criticized those campaigns for ignoring suspects' rights and setting targets for arrests that encouraged abuses.
The Xinjiang government's revival of the "strike hard" rhetoric appears to be another part of its effort to win back the support of residents of the region who claimed that Uighur law-breakers were not being punished.
Police will continue to look for suspects involved in the July riots, and "keep a close eye on clues and cases involving terrorism and explosions," the official Xinhua news agency said.
Energy-rich Xinjiang, strategically located in central Asia, has been struck in recent years by bombings, attacks and riots blamed by Beijing on Uighur separatists demanding an independent "East Turkistan."
Many Uighurs resent government restrictions on their religion and culture and a massive influx of Han Chinese settlers which have in some areas reduced them to a minority in their own land.
Rights groups and Uighur activists also say Beijing grossly exaggerates the threat from militants to justify harsh controls.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Chris Buckley and Jeremy Laurence)