Aug. 12, 2008, 2:08 a.m. (ET)

KUQA, China (AP) A campaigner for independence in China's heavily Muslim far west said Tuesday that police have arrested 90 people and were torturing some following a series of bombings that left a dozen people dead - allegations a government official immediately denied.

In the second attack in the restive region of Xinjiang in a week, bombers hit 17 sites - including a police station, government building, bank and shops - in the mostly Muslim city of Kuqa early Sunday.

Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the Germany-based, pro-independence World Uighur Congress, said ethnic Muslim Uighurs in Kuqa have called with reports of police torturing detainees. He claimed in an e-mail that more than 90 people have been detained, with others arrested in surrounding areas.

"I oppose the use of violence by both sides," Raxit said. "The international society should immediately get involved and demand that China stop the repression."

At a news conference Tuesday, county chief Yusufujiang Maimaiti said "there was not an ounce of truth" to Raxit's allegations, but he would not say whether any arrests had been made.

Life in the Silk Road city had returned to normal by Monday, with donkeys pulling melon-laden carts through the streets and women selling bowls of yogurt in the market.

But the calm surface hides seething anger among the Uighurs toward Chinese immigrants, seen by many as symbols of government oppression, residents and experts say.

With two audacious attacks in a week and the appearance online of videos threatening the Beijing Olympics, Uighur extremists in Xinjiang may be trying to use the games as a way to force themselves out of obscurity into the world's view.

The remote region grabbed headlines last Friday - just four days before the Olympics began some 1,740 miles (2,800 kilometers) to the east in Beijing.

In Kashgar, a Xinjiang city near the border with Afghanistan and Pakistan, two attackers rammed a truck into a group of police, then attacked them with homemade bombs and knives, killing 16. No group claimed responsibility.

In Sunday's attack, police said 10 assailants - including a woman - were killed along with a security guard and a bystander. Another attacker, a 15-year-old girl, was injured, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

"She was not 15," Yusufujiang said while refusing to provide an age or even confirm whether she was a juvenile.

Anti-government violence has flared in Xinjiang for years. But Nicholas Bequelin, a researcher with New York-based Human Rights Watch's Asia Division, said Sunday's attacks were more highly organized.

"It presents several new aspects which were not present in previous incidents in Xinjiang," Bequelin said. "One is the sophisticated coordination of the attacks: It was not just one attack. It's a string of bombings that requires much more planning and a larger organization to carry out especially at the time of the Olympics when the security is so high."

Government crackdowns often silence the Uighurs (pronounced WEE-gurs) or discourage them from speaking out. Most will only speak to reporters on condition of anonymity.

After the Kuqa attacks, groups of Uighurs in the city of 450,000 people strolled around the streets looking at the damage. Their Chinese neighbors appeared grim and were quick to denounce the violence. But many of the Uighurs seemed amused and cheerful. When asked if they endorsed the attacks, they wouldn't respond or said, "I don't know."

That was the answer given - after a grin and a chuckle - on Monday by a merchant walking through Kuqa's market, bustling with life again after the city was shut down by security forces most of Sunday.

"If you look at the streets, everything seems calm and peaceful," said the merchant, who would only identify himself as Amar because he feared retribution. "But behind it all, the situation is different. People are really angry."

He accused the Chinese of restricting the study and practice of Islam. He also said Uighurs suffered job discrimination and were discouraged from using their Turkic language.

"If you are a Muslim, you are already a criminal suspect in the eyes of the Chinese," he said.

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Associated Press Writer Gillian Wong in Beijing contributed to this report.

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