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Thursday, August 31, 2006

China foils oilfield and power plant bombings

BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police have seized explosives and foiled attempts by separatists to blow up oilfields, power plants and highways in the restive northwestern region of Xinjiang, a Beijing-funded Hong Kong newspaper said on Wednesday.

Uighur militants, whom Beijing calls terrorists, have been struggling for decades to make the predominantly Muslim region of Xinjiang an independent state called East Turkestan.

More than 41 tonnes of explosives had been seized since 1990 in the fight against the "three forces" of religious "extremism, separatism and terrorism", the Ta Kung Pao daily quoted Xinjiang's public security deputy chief Wang Lexiang as saying.

"We've forcefully dealt a blow to the 'three forces' and maintained stability in Xinjiang," Wang was quoted as saying. He did not give a figure for the number of arrests.

Police had also confiscated 6,540 grenades and 4.15 metric tons of raw materials to make explosives during the period, Wang said, adding that plans by separatists to bomb power plants, highways and railways had been thwarted.

Police had intensified a crackdown on illegal possession of explosives since July, Wang said without elaborating.

"The social situation is still grave," he said, adding that the number of violations of rules governing explosives increased by 195 percent last year.

Separatists successfully bombed barracks of the paramilitary People's Armed Police and a rail line in 2004, Wang said without saying how many were killed or wounded.

Turkic-speaking Uighurs account for about 8 million of the 19 million people in Xinjiang, which borders the former Soviet Central Asian republics, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Beijing has waged a long campaign against Uighur separatists, whom it accuses of staging a series of bombings, riots and assassinations since the 1980s and training and fighting alongside the al Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden.

But human rights groups accuse Beijing of using its support of the U.S.-led war on terror to legitimise a crackdown on Uighur activists and of systematically violating Uighurs' rights, including arbitrary arrests, unfair trials, torture and religious discrimination.

Judges from Shanghai Cooperation Organisation members -- China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan -- will meet in Shanghai next month to discuss extradition procedures and cross-border work to fight the "three forces".
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