China says to increase police in Xinjiang for stability

China says to increase police in Xinjiang for stability

BEIJING - Reuters
China says to increase police in Xinjiang for stability

In this Aug. 31, 2011 file photo, security officers patrol on a street during the China-Eurasia Expo in Urumqi, in northwestern China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. AP photo

China will boost police forces in its western Xinjiang region, state media said on Monday, in an effort to tackle unsanctioned religious activities in the region, which has been beset by ethnic strife and sometimes violent unrest.

Authorities will recruit 8,000 new police officers to augment police ranks in villages and rural areas, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

"Security patrols, management of the migrant population and cracking down on illegal religious activities" will be among their main duties, Xinhua said, citing an unnamed Communist Party spokesman in Xinjiang.

Xinjiang is home to the Uighur ethnic group, a Turkic-speaking Muslim people who account for just over 40 percent of the region's more than 21 million population.

While they have traditionally practised a very moderate form of Islam, many chafe at government controls on their culture and religion.

"It is an important move for Xinjiang to consolidate the foundation of security and ensure the lasting peace and stability in the region," the P arty spokesman said.

The move comes at a time when Chinese forces have cracked down on protests by Tibetans in the western highlands where advocacy groups say seven Tibetans have been shot dead and over 60 wounded over the last week.

Analysts say China's Communist Party is tightening controls over society and fending off political challenges around the country ahead of a top leadership handover late this year.

In July 2009, Uighurs rioted against Han Chinese residents in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang, killing at least 197 people, mostly Han, according to official estimates.

Xinjiang courts in September sentenced four people to death for violence in two cities over the summer in which 32 people were killed.

The government blamed the incidents in Kashgar and Hotan -- both in the majority Uighur southern part of Xinjiang -- on religious hardliners and separatists who want to establish an independent state called East Turkestan for their people.

Exile groups and human rights activists, however, say China overstates the nature of the threat posed by militants in Xinjiang to justify its harsh policies.

China's ruling Communist Party says it protects freedom of religion, but it maintains a tight grip on religious activities and allows only officially recognised religious institutions to operate.