Separatists blamed for China knife attack; 33 dead

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Police officers talk near luggages left by victims and have not been claimed outside the Kunming Railway Station where more than 10 assailants slashed scores of people with knives the night before in Kunming, in western China’s Yunnan province, Sunday, March 2, 2014. Authorities blamed a slashing rampage that killed 29 people and wounded 143 at a train station in southern China on separatists from the country’s far west and vowed a harsh crackdown Sunday, while residents wondered why their laid-back city was targeted. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)

Police officers talk near luggages left by victims and have not been claimed outside the Kunming Railway Station where more than 10 assailants slashed scores of people with knives the night before in Kunming, in western China’s Yunnan province, Sunday, March 2, 2014. Authorities blamed a slashing rampage that killed 29 people and wounded 143 at a train station in southern China on separatists from the country’s far west and vowed a harsh crackdown Sunday, while residents wondered why their laid-back city was targeted. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)

People light up candles and pray for the victims on a square outside the Kunming Railway Station where more than 10 assailants slashed scores of people with knives the night before in Kunming, in western China’s Yunnan province, Sunday, March 2, 2014. Authorities blamed a slashing rampage that killed 29 people and wounded 143 at a train station in southern China on separatists from the country’s far west and vowed a harsh crackdown Sunday, while residents wondered why their laid-back city was targeted. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)

People light up candles and pray for the victims on a square outside the Kunming Railway Station where more than 10 assailants slashed scores of people with knives the night before in Kunming, in western China’s Yunnan province, Sunday, March 2, 2014. Officials said the attack was a terrorist assault by ethnic separatists from the far west. (AP Photo/Alexander F. Yuan)

In this photo provided by China’s Xinhua News Agency, an injured man from a knife attack lies on the bed as he receives treatment at the First People’s Hosptial of Kunming in Kunming, capital of southwest China’s Yunnan Province, Sunday, March 2, 2014. More than 10 assailants slashed scores of people with knives at the train station in southern China in what officials said Sunday was a terrorist assault by ethnic separatists from the far west. Twenty-nine slash victims and four attackers were killed and 143 people wounded. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Lin Yiquang) NO SALES

An armed policeman walks in a cordoned area outside the Kunming Railway Station in Kunming, in western China’s Yunnan province Sunday, March 2, 2014. More than 10 assailants slashed scores of people with knives at a train station in southern China in what state media said Sunday was a terrorist assault by ethnic separatists from the far west. (AP Photo) CHINA OUT

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KUNMING, China (AP) — Authorities on Sunday blamed a slashing rampage that killed 29 people and wounded 143 at a train station in southern China on separatists from the country’s far west, while local residents said government crackdowns had taken their toll on the alleged culprits.

Police fatally shot four of the assailants — putting the overall death toll at 33 — and captured another after the attack late Saturday in Kunming, the capital of Yunnan province, the official Xinhua News Agency said. But authorities were searching for at least five more of the black-clad attackers.

State broadcaster CCTV said two of the assailants were women, including one of the slain and the one detained.

“All-out efforts should be made to treat the injured people, severely punish terrorists according to the law, and prevent the occurrence of similar cases,” said China’s top police official, Politburo member Meng Jianzhu, who arrived in Kunming early Sunday, an indication of how seriously authorities viewed the attack.

The attackers’ identities have not been confirmed, but evidence at the scene showed that it was “a terrorist attack carried out by Xinjiang separatist forces,” Xinhua said. The far western region of Xinjiang is home to a simmering rebellion against Chinese rule by some members of the Muslim Uighur (pronounced WEE’-gur) population, and the government has responded there with heavy-handed security.

Police in Kunming on Sunday were rounding up members of the city’s small Uighur community, believed to number no more than several dozen, for questioning in the attack and information about the assailants.

“How do we know them?” said a Uighur man who gave only his first name, Akpar. “We could not tell if the assailants were Uighurs as they were all dressed in black. We did not like the attack either.”

Most attacks blamed on Uighur separatists take place in Xinjiang, where clashes between Uighurs and police or members of China’s ethnic Han majority are frequent, but Saturday’s assault happened more than 1,500 kilometers (more than 900 miles) to the southeast in Yunnan, which has not had a history of such unrest.

Kunming residents expressed dismay at both the attack and the conditions within China that could have allowed it to happen.

Restaurant worker Xie Yulong said the attackers were “worse than animals.” But he also expressed sympathy toward ethnic Uighurs, saying their region has come under severe security crackdowns in recent months under the government of President Xi Jinping.

“It’s the pressure,” Xie said. “Beijing has put too much pressure on them since Xi Jinping took over. They are under so much pressure they do not want to live, and they did that.”

Another Kunming resident, Jiang Hua, said the attack has made people scared to go out at night.

“I think we should chase off the Uighurs and let them be independent,” Jiang said. “And local authorities should be held accountable for providing public safety.”

Witnesses described assailants dressed in black storming the train station late Saturday evening and slashing people indiscriminately with large knives and machetes.

Student Qiao Yunao, 16,

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