20/07/2011 - BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Wednesday raised the death toll to 18 from a clash at a police station in the restive far western region of Xinjiang, saying that 14 rioters died along with two policemen and two hostages in the worst violence there in a year.
Government officials previously said at least four people were killed in what they described as a terrorist attack. But the Germany-based exile group World Uyghur Congress said it was an attack on unarmed protesters.
The clash marked the worst violence in about a year in the far western region, home to many Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking people native to the area, many of whom resent the growing presence of majority Han Chinese in Xinjiang.
Xinjiang is strategically vital to China and Beijing has shown no sign of loosening its grip on the territory, which accounts for one-sixth of China's land mass and holds rich deposits of oil and gas and borders Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Central Asia.
The exile group had said 20 Uighurs were killed -- 14 beaten to death and 6 shot dead -- and 70 arrested, when police opened fire on protesters, leading to fighting between the two sides.
The Xinjiang government's website (www.xinjiang.gov.cn) said that police fatally shot the 14 rioters after giving "legal education and warnings," adding that 18 rioters had bought and made weapons and sneaked into the desert city of Hotan days before the clash on Monday.
The report said the rioters, armed with axes, knives, daggers, Molotov cocktails and explosive devices, "crazily beat, smashed and set on fire" the police station, and hung "flags of extreme religion" on the top of the station.
Two policemen and two hostages were also killed in the clash and four of the rioters were arrested, it added. "It was an organized, premeditated and severe violent terrorist attack to local politics-and-law departments," the report said.
The website also showed three pictures it said were taken on the scene of the incident, showing police with guns storming into a police station, which in one photo was on fire.