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Rioting in western China: Why are 27 dead? (+video)

Rioting in western China: In one of the deadliest incidents since 2009, rioting broke out and assailants attacked police and other people with knives and set fire to police cars in western China Wednesday.

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An overseas Uighur activist said Wednesday's conflict was triggered by the Chinese government's "sustained repression and provocation" of the Uighur community.

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Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, said residents he contacted in neighborhoods about 30 kilometers (18 miles) outside the township said the area has been sealed by "armed forces" and telephone services appeared to be irregular. A heavy security deployment and disruption of communications services also followed the 2009 Urumqi riots.

Dilxat Raxit urged the international community to pressure China to "stop imposing policies in Xinjiang that cause turmoil." 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.

Many Uighurs say they suffer discrimination in jobs and cannot obtain loans and passports.

The Chinese government says all ethnic groups are treated equally and point to billions of dollars in investment that has modernized Xinjiang, a strategically vital region with significant oil and gas deposits. Beijing often accuses overseas Uighur activists of orchestrating violent incidents and obscure militant groups sometimes take responsibility, with little or no evidence to prove claims on either side.

Duncan Innes-Ker, an analyst at Economist Intelligence Unit, said the latest unrest shows that the government needs a new strategy to resolve ethnic and religious tensions in Xinjiang.

"Its past efforts to address them with tight security and economic development have been a manifest failure," Innes-Ker said.

The township of Lukqun is about 250 kilometers (150 miles) southeast of Urumqi along the ancient Silk Road connecting China to Europe.

It is part of an area that includes Turpan, a tourist destination with distinctive Central Asian architecture.

Such events are not uncommon in Xinjiang, however, nor is the state's silence about them. The Christian Science Monitor reported just two months ago, after a similar clash between knife-wielding "suspected terrorists" and local authorities left 21 people dead, that "violence flares sporadically" in the region between its native population and job-seeking immigrants from China's Han majority. The worst instance occurred in 2009, when almost 200 people, mostly Han, were killed in riots across Urumqi.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Pennington in Washington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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