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* Police shoot dead 12 Uighur rioters
* "Greatest restraint" exercised - governor (Adds details, quotes)
By Max Duncan
URUMQI, China, July 18 (Reuters) - Chinese police shot dead 12 Uighur rioters in Xinjiang this month, regional governor Nuer Baikeli said on Saturday, in a rare government admission of deaths inflicted by security forces.
In Xinjiang’s worst ethnic unrest in decades, Uighurs attacked majority Han Chinese in regional capital Urumqi on July 5 after taking to the streets to protest against an ethnic clash at a factory in south China in June which left two Uighurs dead.
The violence left 197 people dead and more than 1,600 wounded, mostly Han Chinese who launched revenge attacks in Urumqi days later. About 1,000 people, mostly Uighurs, have been detained in an ensuing government crackdown.
Asked to elaborate on the casualties, the governor said most of the victims sustained head wounds after they were bludgeoned with bricks and iron rods.
Police shot dead 12 armed Uighurs attacking civilians and ransacking shops after they ignored warning shots fired into the air, said Nuer Baikeli, a Uighur, a Turkic people who are largely Muslim and share linguistic and cultural bonds with Central Asia.
Of the 12, three were killed on the spot, while nine died either on their way to or after arriving at hospital.
"In any country ruled by law, the use of force is necessary to protect the interest of the people and stop violent crime. This is the duty of policemen. This is bestowed on policemen by the law," the governor said.
Beijing cannot afford to lose its grip on a vast territory that borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India, has abundant oil reserves and is China’s largest natural gas-producing region.
Police exercised the "greatest restraint", the governor said in a 100-minute interview with a small group of reporters, including from Reuters.
"Most of the victims were innocent civilians," Nuer Baikeli said. "The violent elements were most inhuman, barbaric ... extremely vicious, unscrupulous and brutal."
The unrest was Xinjiang’s "most abominable, had the most serious consequence and the worst impact" since the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949, he said.
The government handed out copies of a four-odd-minute DVD with footage from police and surveillance cameras inside and outside a mosque purportedly showing three Uighurs trying to force Muslim worshippers to take to the streets.
The knife-wielding trio chased some of the worshippers when they refused, according to the footage. Two of the three were shot dead when they tried to attack patrolling police.
Xinjiang has long been a tightly controlled hotbed of ethnic tension, fostered by an economic gap between many Uighurs and Hans, government controls on religion and culture and an influx of Han migrants who now are the majority in most key cities.
Nuer Baikeli insisted the rioting was an attempt by exiled separatists to split Xinjiang from China.
He denied the government had a policy of migrating Hans to Xinjiang or forcing Uighurs to work in Chinese cities.
Nuer Baikeli said stability has been restored, and he defended the government shutting down the Internet and blocking cell phones from receiving or sending text messages, saying the moves were aimed at preventing unrest from spreading.
"Internet control was necessary ... It became a tool to spread false information," the governor said.
Xinjiang needs stability, ethnic unity and harmony to develop its economy, he said, adding that the government would invest 3 billion yuan ($441.2 million) over the next five years to give a facelift to the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar. (Additional reporting and writing by Liu Zhen and Benjamin Kang Lim)