Death toll at 35 after ethnic clashes in western China

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman: 'This is a terrorist attack, there's no question about that'

The death toll from clashes in western China has risen to 35, reports say.

The violence included knife attacks on police in the Xinjiang region which has seen frequent clashes between China's Muslim minority Uighurs and the ethnic Han majority.

Initial reports said 27 people were killed in a remote town, with state-run media saying that knife-wielding attackers targeted police stations, a government building and a construction site - all symbols of Han authority.

The new toll included some of the severely injured dying in the hospital. It also included 11 attackers shot dead in Lukqun township, the Xinhua News agency said. Two police officers were among the 24 people they killed.

“This is a terrorist attack, there's no question about that,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said. “As to who masterminded it, local people are still investigating.”

State news reports did not identify the ethnicity of the attackers, nor explain what may have caused the conflict in the Turkic-speaking region, where Uighurs have complained of suppression and discrimination by Han people. The report also said police captured four injured attackers.

The violence was one of the bloodiest incidents since unrest in the region's capital city of Urumqi killed nearly 200 in 2009.

Photos released in state media show scorched police cars and government buildings and victims lying on the ground - presumably dead.

It was impossible to independently confirm the state-run media accounts. The Global Times said police set up many checkpoints along the 30km (19-mile) road to Lukqun and dissuaded reporters from travelling there due to safety concerns. It said heavy security has been necessary because some suspects remained on the run.

Xinjiang is home to a large population of minority Muslim Uighurs in a region that borders Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan and has been the scene of numerous violent acts in recent years, including the riots in the capital four years ago.

Critics have attributed the violence, including Wednesday's deadly clashes, to Beijing's oppressive and discriminatory ethnicity policies. Many Uighurs complain that Beijing imposes tight restrictions on their religious and cultural life, barring children and women from attending mosques and discouraging fasting during the Muslim month of Ramadan, which starts this year in early July.

The Chinese government says all ethnic groups are treated equally and that the violence is terrorism with no connection to religion or ethnicity. It points to billions of dollars it has invested in modernising Xinjiang, a strategically vital region with significant oil and gas deposits.

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