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China promises improvements in restive northwest

May 30, 2014

BEIJING (AP) — China’s president has promised to raise incomes and education spending in the country’s restive Muslim northwest in an effort to cool rising ethnic tensions, while calling for tougher security following an attack in the region’s capital that killed dozens of people.

At a top-level meeting, President Xi Jinping called Thursday for “copper walls and iron barriers” as well as “nets spread from the earth to the sky” in the Xinjiang region to stop terrorism, according to a statement from China’s central government.

The May 22 attack that killed 43 people in Urumqi was the deadliest in a series of attacks blamed on members of the region’s Uighur ethnic minority.

Beijing says the attackers are religious extremists with ties to overseas Islamic terror groups, but foreign experts say they see no evidence of that. Uighur activists say the unrest is fueled by growing frustration at an influx of settlers from China’s Han majority and official discrimination and suppressive policies.

Xi promised that the government would focus on employment, education and poverty alleviation, the government statement said. He promised more education spending and to enroll more children in school, but gave no details.

Thursday’s high-level meeting was the first in four years to focus exclusively on Xinjiang.

Xi defended Beijing’s policies in the region, including those on religion. Official restrictions such as a prohibition on taking children to mosques have angered Muslims.

“Our party’s strategy on the governance of Xinjiang is proven to be correct and must be continued,” the president was quoted as saying. He said authorities should focus on “helping religion adapt to a socialist society.”

“Focus on fostering a team of patriotic clergy and boosting the general quality of people in the religious circle so as to ensure that the leadership of religious organizations is firmly in the hands of people who love the country as well as religion,” Xi was quoted as saying.

A statement issued after a meeting Monday of Communist Party leaders said they promised free education through high school in heavily Uighur southern Xinjiang, in contrast to the rest of China, where education is free only through ninth grade. Beijing said at least one member of each household should be guaranteed employment.

Also Thursday, the country’s top economic official, Premier Li Keqiang, promised to promote bilingual education to increase employment opportunities for Uighurs, who are poorer than the Han Chinese.

China has stepped up security throughout the country and is starting to equip police officers with guns so they can respond to terror attacks and other violent incidents.

In Urumqi, liquids and lighters have been banned from bus lines in response to last week’s attack.

Authorities in far-off Beijing have mobilized 850,000 volunteers to help police spot potential dangers, the Communist Party-run Beijing Daily said. The city also has placed security guards on some public buses and started scanning passengers at several subway stations.

Update hourly