China holds 'anti-terrorism' mass rally in Xinjiang's Uighur heartland

BEIJING (Reuters) - The government of the restive far-western Xinjiang marched thousands of armed officers through the region’s southern city of Hotan in a shock and awe campaign against what it says is the rising threat of terrorism and ethnic separatism.

The large-scale parade in Hotan, a hotspot of ethnic tension in Xinjiang’s southern Muslim Uighur heartland, involved thousands of armed police and paramilitary officers and was designed to “show strength and intimidate”, according to a front-page report in the official Xinjiang Daily on Friday.

“Continued vigilance and high-pressure deterrence against terrorists have forced them to end of the road, like a cornered beast driven to desperate action,” Xinjiang deputy party secretary Zhu Hailun said.

Hundreds have been killed in Xinjiang in the past two years, most in violence between the Muslim Uighur people, who call the region home, and the ethnic majority Han Chinese.

After a period of relative calm, there has been an uptick in violence in recent weeks, particularly in the region’s south.

On Tuesday, three knife-wielding attackers killed five people and injured another five in Pishan County, in Hotan prefecture.

In December, five people were killed when attackers drove a vehicle into a government building and police shot dead what authorities described as three terror suspects last month.

The government has blamed much of the unrest on separatist Islamist militants, although rights groups and exiles say anger at tightening Chinese controls on the religion and culture of Muslim Uighurs is more to blame.

Earlier this month, the government said seven people, including six senior public security officials from Hotan and nearby Karakax county, were being investigated on suspicion of graft. All were Uighurs, judging by their names.

Chinese authorities have also increasingly imposed travel restrictions on Uighurs, and late last year began ordering Xinjiang residents in Xinjiang to turn in their passports to police.

Reporting by Philip Wen; Editing by Michael Perry