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Xinhua: Explosions in the restive Xinjiang region

Aug. 09, 2008, 7:08 p.m. (ET)

URUMQI, China (AP) Several explosions on Sunday rocked a county in western China, killing at least two people, a hospital official and state media said, amid tightened security following an attack last week before the start of the Beijing Olympics.

The early morning explosions occurred in Kuqa county in the south of the Muslim region of Xinjiang, said a woman who was on duty at the emergency unit of the Kuqa People's Hospital.

"There were several explosions in several places in the county seat of Kuqa this morning and we heard them from the hospital," said the woman, who would only give her last name, Tian. She said at least one man was pronounced dead upon arrival while several other people were in critical condition.

The official Xinhua News Agency said at least two people were killed, and cited witnesses as saying they saw flashes of fire and heard gun shots following the explosions, which took place between 3:20 a.m. (1920 GMT) and 4:00 a.m. local time (2000 GMT).

Xinhua said local military sources confirmed the incident and said they have deployed forces to the area, while police have sealed off the area where the explosions occurred.

A man who answered the phone at the county's public security bureau hung up when asked about the explosions. Repeated calls to the bureau later 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.

Already normally tight security in Xinjiang was increased in the past week after assailants killed 16 border police and wounded 16 others in the city of Kashgar on Monday when they rammed a stolen truck into the group before tossing homemade bombs and stabbing them.

The explosions also come after an Islamic group seeking independence for Xinjiang province threatened Thursday to attack buses, trains and planes during the two-week Olympic competition.

A videotape purportedly made by the Turkistan Islamic Party, a militant group seeking independence for Xinjiang, was released with threats of attacks during the Olympics. The group is believed to be based across the border in Pakistan, where security experts say core members have received training from al-Qaida.

Xinjiang is a massive, rugged territory - one-sixth of China's land mass - that's 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.

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.

Xinhua said the pre-dawn explosions rocked the downtown area of Kuqa, 460 miles (740 kilometers) from Urumqi, the regional capital. Kuqa, a county of 400,000 people, is a popular tourist destination in Xinjiang and is rich in oil and gas resources.

Police has cordoned off the area where the explosions occurred, it said.

No other details were immediately known.


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