An armed Chinese police patrols the road leading into the riot affected town of Lukqun, Xinjiang Province on June 27, 2013. Riots in China's ethnically divided Xinjiang region left 27 people dead, after police opened fire on 'knife-wielding mobs'. (Photo credit: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty)
Calum MacLeod, USA TODAY
BEIJING - Twenty-seven people died in mob attacks on police stations and other buildings in China's Muslim northwest Wednesday in the latest deadly incident to undermine Beijing's claims of harmonious ethnic relations.
Attackers in a province where people have lashed out at China controls in the past stabbed several police and security officials and set police cars on fire Wednesday, according to state news agency Xinhua.
Nine members of police and security forces were killed in Lukqun, a remote township in Turpan prefecture in the resource-rich region of Xinjiang Eight civilians died as well and officers then shot and killed 10 of the alleged assailants, Xinhua said.
The violence appeared to be the deadliest in the restive region since July 2009 when almost 200 people died in riots in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi. In April this year, 21 people died in clashes near Kashgar, China's westernmost city, between police and assailants Xinhua called a gang of armed terrorists.
China is dominated by the majority Han ethnic group, but huge swaths of Western China form the homelands of ethnic minorities including Tibetans and the less globally well-known Uighurs, also spelled Uygurs, a Turkic-speaking, mostly Muslim people.
Xinjiang is officially designated the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, but many people there complain that they enjoy no real autonomy from China's Communist authorities who impose discriminatory state policies and increase Han immigration to dilute the indigenous population and extract resources to benefit the rest of China.
Beijing argues that the state invests heavily to improve infrastructure and living standards for all ethnic groups and blames unrest on "hostile" groups based abroad.
Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress, blamed Wednesday's clashes on "continuous repression and provocation."
"The international community must adopt emergency measures and request China stop all policies that cause turmoil," he said.
Nicholas Bequelin, a senior researcher for Human Rights Watch, based in Hong Kong, who follows Xinjiang affairs, said there seems to be "a worrying increase in the number of violent incidents, against a background of ever increasing political, religious and cultural restrictions."
A Human Rights watch 2013 report said that China maintains a pervasive system of ethnic discrimination against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities in Xinjiang and sharply curbs religious and cultural expression.
"Factors contributing to this bleak atmosphere include the omnipresence of the secret police, the recent history of disappearances, and an overtly politicized judiciary."
The region has grown popular with increasingly affluent Han tourists from the rest of China, who flock to join tours along the old "Silk Road" that traversed Xinjiang in centuries past.
The clashes Wednesday happened 60 miles from the tourist mecca of Turpan and very close to a scenic desert area visited by tour groups in Shanshan county. Hotels in the area say they are worried that the violence would harm tourism.