Blasts and clash kill 11 in China's tense far west

BEIJING (Reuters) - Suspected Muslim separatists and suicide bombers launched a dozen attacks in west China on Sunday, killing 11 people in the blasts and a subsequent shootout with police in renewed violence two days into the Olympics.

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It was the second attack in restive Xinjiang in a week after 16 police were killed at a border post on Monday.

China says militants seeking an independent “East Turkestan” homeland for Muslim Uighurs in the Xinjiang region are among the top threats to the Beijing Olympics, which began on Friday.

Homemade grenade attacks shook Kuqa, a town in the south of Xinjiang more than 3,000 km (1,860 miles) from Beijing, as 15 men attacked supermarkets, hotels and government offices in the early hours of Sunday, the official Xinhua news agency said.

Police shot dead eight assailants, while another two blew themselves up. A security guard also died in the attacks.

They managed to capture two of the attackers and have launched a manhunt for another three who escaped, Xinhua said.

Police were running security checks of vehicles and questioning taxi drivers and passengers, it added.

“The lawbreakers drove a taxi to the local public security office, industry and business administration and other sites and tossed homemade explosives, destroying two police vehicles,” it said.

Local officials refused to clarify how many died or how. Xinhua said five people were hurt, including two policemen, two civilians and a security guard.

“Our leaders haven’t determined the nature of the incident yet,” said an official in the Kuqa Communist Party Committee office. He refused to give his name. “It looks like separatist forces.”

A Uighur businessman in Kuqa, who gave his name as Anwar, told Reuters explosions, shots and sirens echoed through the town.

“I don’t know exactly what happened, but whatever it was will make them even more worried about stability,” he said by phone.

Last month, Kuqa police announced payments of up to 200,000 yuan ($29,200) for information on planned “terrorist incidents involving the Olympics”, Xinjiang media reported at the time.

The county, which has a population of 400,000, is about 740 km (460 miles) from Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi.

Wang Wei, secretary-general of the Beijing Organising Committee for the Olympic Games, told reporters that Xinjiang separatists “want to use the platform of the Olympics to amplify the effects”.

Many of Xinjiang’s 8 million Uighurs chafe at controls on religion that China enforces and resent influxes of Han Chinese migrants and businesses. Uighurs now make up slightly less than half of its 20 million people, and most of the rest are Han.

Additional reporting by Edwin Chan and Benjamin Kang Lim; Editing by Nick Macfie