Xinjiang Hijacking Attempt Thwarted, China Says

Authorities are investigating six Uyghurs who allegedly attempted to hijack the flight from Hotan to Urumqi.

hotan-airport-305 The Hotan airport in a photo taken July 12, 2007.

Updated at 1:45 p.m. on 2012-06-29

The air crew and passengers of a domestic Chinese airline fought off a hijacking attempt over the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang, official media reported on Friday.

The attempt was made 10 minutes after Tianjin Airlines flight GS 7554 bound for Urumqi took off at 12:25 p.m. local time from Hotan, a city in the south of the region where 20 people died in clashes between local Muslim Uyghurs and police a year ago.

"Two flight policemen were seriously injured, and the head attendant and seven passengers were slightly injured in the fight with hijackers," the official Xinhua news agency reported, citing the regional police department.

"The six suspects are now in police custody," it said, adding that the plane had returned to Hotan airport and landed safely.

"Further investigation is under way," the agency said. "Police have not revealed whether the hijackers took firearms or weapons on board."

The six hijackers were all ethnic Uyghurs, a Xinjiang official told Agence-France Presse.

The exile World Uyghur Congress disputed the official version of events, saying local sources in Hotan said the plane turned back after a fight broke out between Uyghurs and Han Chinese passengers over seat assignments.

'Terrorist' attack anniversary

The report comes ahead of the first anniversary of clashes in Hotan between police and Uyghur protesters that left 20 people dead, including Uyghurs.

State media quoted an official in the region as saying the clash was a "terrorist" attack and said four people including a police officer were killed when a crowd set upon a police station in the remote city.

But Uyghur activists said it was an outburst of anger by ordinary members of the minority, and accused authorities of attempting to block information on the deadly incident.

Chinese authorities, wary of instability and the threat to the ruling Communist Party's grip on power, often link Uyghurs in Xinjiang to violent separatist groups, including the Al-Qaeda terror network.

Uyghurs say they are subjected to political control and persecution for seeking meaningful autonomy in their homeland and are denied economic opportunities stemming from Beijing's rapid development of the troubled region.

In October, Xinjiang courts sentenced four Uyghurs to death after the violence in Hotan and a second attack in Kashgar. Some 40 people died in both incidents.

In June 2009, attacks on Uyghur workers by their Han Chinese colleagues at a toy factory in the southern city of Shaoguan sparked a peaceful, student-led demonstration by Uyghurs in the Xinjiang regional capital of Urumqi. What began as a peaceful protest escalated into full-scale ethnic rioting on July 5 that left 197 people dead, according to official figures, though exile groups put the figure higher.

Beijing blamed exile Uyghur dissident Rebiya Kadeer for inciting the violence, but Kadeer and the World Uyghur Congress have repeatedly said that Chinese police opened fire on unarmed Uyghur protesters.

Reported by Luisetta Mudie.

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