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08-04-08, 19:11
Police arrest 70 in China's restive Xinjiang
Reuters - Thursday, April 3 01:43 pmBEIJING (Reuters) - Police have arrested 70 people from China's minority Uighur ethnic group in the Silk Road oasis city of Kashgar, fearing trouble when the Olympic torch passes through the city in June, an exile group said on Thursday.

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Xinjiang regional government's news office denied there had been arrests and an officer at Kashgar's police headquarters said he knew nothing, but local residents said security has been tightened ahead of August's Beijing Games.

The report comes at a tense time for China as it confronts ethnic unrest on two fronts. In Xinjiang, protesters in one city last month rallied for more religious freedom and, according to a government Web site, held up independence flags.

In Tibet, Buddhist monk-led marches turned into an anti-Chinese riot in the capital Lhasa last month and touched off a rash of demonstrations throughout the region.

On Thursday, an official Tibet news Web site (http://www.chinatibetnews.com) said police had caught more than 800 people linked to the Lhasa violence and 280 people had turned themselves in.

On a trip to Yunnan, China's most diverse province, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao offered increased government support for poor areas populated by ethnic minorities but called for unity.

"All ethnic groups form one big family. We must be united and help each other, to prosper and make progress together," the official Xinhua news agency quoted Wen as saying.

The recent unrest has dented propaganda claims of harmony, elicited concern from abroad and cast a shadow over the upcoming Olympics, which the Chinese leadership has hoped will be a chance to showcase the country's development.

China has responded by cranking up security, sending thousands of anti-riot troops into Tibetan-populated areas and launching a propaganda blitz.

Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the World Uyghur Congress, a Germany-based exile group that seeks independence, said the authorities were using the Olympics as an excuse to crack down on the Turkic-speaking Muslim Uighurs.

"One world one dream?" he said, referring to Beijing's Olympic motto. "Is that right? The Uighurs have a different dream ... We don't want the Olympics here."

Elsewhere in Xinjiang, U.S. government-supported Radio Free Asia reported police raids on a handful of homes, possibly in search of arms.

Police and locals reached by telephone denied the report.

A hotel employee in Yili said, however, that security had been increased since early February, but that everything was otherwise normal. "We are going to our jobs every day and kids are going to school," the employee said. "It's not like Tibet."

Separatist ambitions in Xinjiang have long been a source of concern for Chinese officials, and rights groups accused China of using the U.S.-led war on terror as an excuse for widespread suppression of Uighurs and to curtail religious freedoms.

In and around Tibet, suppression continued, according to the International Campaign for Tibet, which said on Thursday it had received reports of mass detentions, monasteries under siege and authorities in one case targeting people using cell phones out of apparent fear that news of the crackdown would leak out.

The top Communist Party official in Tibet said the Himalayan region would reopen to domestic and foreign tourists as soon as possible, and probably by May 1, after authorities cranked up security after the March 14 riot in Lhasa.

China blames the exiled Dalai Lama, whom it labels a separatist, and his followers for stirring up the Lhasa violence in which it says 19 people died. The Tibet government-in-exile says around 140 people died.

Beijing has ordered officials in Tibet and Tibetan-populated areas in neighbouring provinces to strengthen grassroots Communist Party organisations and make them "fortresses" in the fight against separatism, Xinhua said.

"Party cadres must withstand tests, always keep a clear mind ... in the struggle against splittist plots by the Dalai clique," Xinhua quoted a Party decree as saying.

(Writing by John Ruwitch; Editing by Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson)

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