China sentences nine to death for terrorism in Xinjiang


BEIJING (Reuters) - Authorities in China's restive Xinjiang region sentenced nine people to death on Thursday for "violent terrorism" crimes, state media reported, as part of a nation-wide crackdown on separatist militants.

China has launched a year-long "anti-terrorism" operation, and hundreds of suspects have already been detained.

A total of 81 people from Xinjiang, home to a large Muslim Uighur minority, were handed sentences for crimes related to involvement in "terrorist organizations" to intentional homicide and arson, state broadcaster CCTV said on a microblog.

"Among those, nine people were sentenced to death, and three people were given death sentences with a two-year reprieve," CCTV said, the latter referring to a sentence that is often commuted to life in prison.

Others were given life in prison or shorter sentences.

The announcement comes as state news portal Xinjiang Net said another 29 suspects had been rounded up on charges such as inciting separatism, in the regional capital Urumqi, the site of a suicide bombing that killed 39 people last month.

No other details of the sentences or the arrests were given.

Experts say economic marginalization of Uighurs is one of the main causes of the violence, which has killed at least 180 people across China in the past year.

They argue that benefits of development in Xinjiang, resource-rich and strategically located on the borders of ex-Soviet central Asia, largely have gone to majority Han Chinese, stoking resentment among Uighurs.

Beijing says separatist groups in Xinjiang are seeking to form their own state called East Turkestan, though experts dispute the influence and reach of the most prominent group, the East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

President Xi Jinping has pledged to alleviate poverty and improve ethnic relations in Xinjiang, an indication that China's leaders recognize some of the causes of the violence.

(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Ron Popeski and Jeremy Laurence)