Mar 07 Report: Explosions rock restive Chinese region

Aug. 09, 2008, 9:46 p.m. (ET)

URUMQI, China (AP) A series of pre-dawn bombings Sunday killed or wounded at least four people in a restive region of western China, state media said.

The bombings occurred amid tightened security after an attack here last week left 16 border police dead and 15 others wounded in the Muslim region of Xinjiang.

Police suspect that those killed or injured in Sunday's explosions were behind the bombings which struck Kuqa county in the south of Xinjiang, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

The agency said witnesses reported seeing flashes of fire and heard gun shots following the explosions.

Xinhua said local military sources confirmed the incident and said they have deployed forces to the area, which was also sealed off by police. Kuqa is 460 miles from Urumqi, the regional capital.

A woman on duty at the emergency unit of the Kuqa People's Hospital said one man was pronounced dead upon arrival while several other people were in critical condition.

"There were several explosions in several places in the county seat of Kuqa this morning and we heard them from the hospital," said a woman on duty at the hospital, who would only give her last name, Tian.

Witnesses reported that explosions hit government offices and public security and military police posts, said Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the Germany-based World Uighur Congress, which supports independence for the region.

A man who answered the phone at the Kuqa county government's duty office said he was not aware of the explosions and refused to give his name. Repeated calls to the county's public security bureau rang unanswered.

The latest violence comes after two Americans closely linked to the U.S. Olympic volleyball team were stabbed, one fatally, in a bizarre attack Saturday in the Chinese capital on the first day of the Beijing games.

Normally tight security in Xinjiang was increased in the past week after the fatal attack on border police in the city of Kashgar Monday. The assailants rammed a stolen truck into the group before tossing homemade bombs and stabbing them.

On Thursday, a videotape was released threatening attacks during the Olympics. The videotape was purportedly made by the Turkistan Islamic Party, a Muslim group believed to be based across the border in Pakistan, where security experts say core members have received training from al-Qaida.

Xinjiang is a large, rugged territory - one-sixth of China's land mass - that is home to the Uighurs, a Muslim minority with a long history of tense relations with the Chinese. The Uighurs, with a population of about 8 million, have complained that the Communist government has been restricting their religion and Turkic culture.

"We have been appealing to Beijing to solve the issue through political dialogue to prevent the situation from deteriorating, but they have never taken it seriously," Raxit said in an e-mail. "On the contrary, they heightened the suppression. Beijing should be directly responsible for today's incident."

Beijing has accused Uighur groups of using terrorism in a violent campaign to split Xinjiang from the rest of the country. China's state-run media have reported sporadic bombings, shootings and riots in the territory over the years, but the dispatches are often sketchy and difficult to verify.

Kuqa, a county of 400,000 people, is a popular tourist destination in Xinjiang and is rich in oil and gas resources.

No other details were immediately known.

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Associated Press reporter Gillian Wong contributed to the report from Beijing.

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