BEIJING (Reuters) - China said on Monday that Islamic extremists were behind an attack on the eve of the Muslim fasting month in the restive western region of Xinjiang that left 11 people dead.
The attack in Kashgar city on Sunday afternoon was the latest violence to shake the region where Muslim Uighurs have long resented the presence of Han Chinese and religious and political controls imposed by Beijing.
Critics of Chinese policy in Xinjiang and advocates of Uighur self-rule say that Beijing has exaggerated the influence of terror groups and its tough policies have only deepened Uighur anger by smothering peaceful protest.
Here are some facts about the region.
* Xinjiang, China’s largest provincial-level administrative unit by area, covers one sixth of the country. It is relatively sparsely populated with about 20 million people.
* It is home to 8 million Uighurs, a Turkic, largely Islamic people who share linguistic and cultural bonds with Central Asia. Many resent the Han Chinese economic dominance in Xinjiang.
* The northern part of Xinjiang is economically dominated by the “bingtuan,” military-run farms and businesses that predominantly employ Han Chinese settlers. In southern Xinjiang, where Uighurs are still the majority, the government said last June that it plans to make the oasis city of Kashgar an economic development zone to speed up growth.
* The Uighur language has been largely phased out of higher education, and Uighurs are limited in their ability to travel independently to Mecca for the annual Haj pilgrimage. In contrast, China’s central government has supported Islamic studies and Haj travel for the Hui, a Muslim people culturally akin to the Han.
* Along with Tibet, Xinjiang is one of the most politically sensitive regions in China. In both cases China says its rule has brought economic growth and prosperity.
* Xinjiang is strategically located at the borders of Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. It has abundant oil reserves and is China’s largest natural gas producing region.
* The oasis cities in what is now Xinjiang were conquered by China during the Han dynasty. For the next two millennia, they were variously independent, under Chinese rule, or part of other central Asian kingdoms. The area was briefly an independent East Turkestan in the 1940s and has been ruled by Beijing since the Communist victory in 1949.
* In late July, the Chinese government said that 14 “rioters” died along with two policemen and two hostages at a clash at a police station in the desert city of Hotan in the worst violence there in a year. Government officials said it was a terrorist attack, but an exile group said it was an attack on unarmed protesters.
* Chinese security officials blamed attacks before and during the 2008 Olympic Games on independence-seeking Uighur militants. In the most violent attack, 16 armed police were killed in a bomb and stabbing attack in Kashgar.
* The Chinese government has accused militant Uighurs of working with the Islamist militant group al Qaeda to bring about an independent East Turkestan by violent means.
* Human rights groups say China has used its support for the U.S.-led fight against al Qaeda to justify a wider crackdown on Uighurs, including arbitrary arrests, closed-door trials and application of the death penalty.
Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Ken Wills and Jonathan Thatcher