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China tries to shrug off deadly attack

Aug. 05, 2008, 8:41 p.m. (ET)

KASHGAR, China(AP) Blood was washed off the road. Debris was cleared away. And authorities said peace had been restored in China's restive Muslim region where 16 police were killed in an attack that may have been timed to overshadow Olympic celebrations.

But there were plenty of other signs Tuesday suggesting all was not well in Kashgar, this ancient Silk Road city near the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan at the opposite end of China from Beijing.

Townspeople were reluctant to talk about Monday's brazen assault. Police stepped up security checks and put schools, hospitals and government offices on heightened alert, state-run media and locals said. Slogans on billboards, walls and buildings urged people to create a more secure and harmonious society.

The precautions underscored the Chinese government's sensitivity to anything that could sour its plans for the Beijing Games to be a pivotal moment of national glory and global acceptance, despite continuing criticism of its record on human rights.

Kashgar is 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) west of Beijing, in the far western region of Xinjiang - a vast, rugged territory home to a Muslim minority called the Uighurs (WEE'-gurs). They have a long history of pushing for independence, and Chinese authorities have blamed a series of sporadic bombings, shootings and riots in recent years on Uighur extremist groups.

One such group, believed to be based in the remote tribal regions of Pakistan, released a video tape last month threatening to target the Olympics.

But many Uighur activists accuse Chinese officials of exaggerating the terrorism threat to justify a crackdown on the ethnic minority. They claim the clampdown has greatly intensified during the run-up to the Olympics, which start Friday.

Monday's attack was one of the most audacious in years.

Two men - a taxi driver and a vegetable seller - drove a truck into a group of 70 border police during their routine morning jog in a northwestern neighborhood, where several popular tourist hotels are located, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Foreign reporters have rushed to Kashgar to report on the attack, adding an unusual level of scrutiny in a normally isolated region even as attention on China intensifies because of the Olympics.

Police beat two Japanese reporters who were among those sent to cover the story, while detaining them about two hours at a police station late Monday. Chinese officials apologized Tuesday, but Japan's government said it would lodge a formal protest.

The jitters filtered down to locals. One Chinese merchant who owns a small liquor store near the attack site dodged questions from a large group of foreign reporters.

``I'm just a small citizen of this country. I'm just a businessman. I don't remember hearing or seeing anything. I just run my business. Leave me alone,'' said the man, who declined to provide his name.

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