Why is there tension between China and the Uighurs?

The Xinjiang autonomous region in China has had a long history of discord between Chinese authorities and the indigenous ethnic Uighur population. The BBC sets out why.

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Where is Xinjiang and who lives there?

File photo of Uighur men in Hotan, Xinjiang region The ethnic Uighur population used to be the majority in China's Xinjiang region

The sprawling Xinjiang autonomous region is located in China's far west. The largest of China's administrative regions, it borders eight countries - Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.

Map of Xinjiang territory

Uighurs comprised most of the population before the heavy migration of China's ethnic majority Han began.

Most Uighurs are Muslim and Islam is an important part of their life and identity. Their language is related to Turkish, and they regard themselves as culturally and ethnically close to Central Asian nations.

The region's economy has largely revolved around agriculture and trade, with towns such as Kashgar thriving as hubs along the famous Silk Road.

But development has brought new residents. In the 2000 census, Han Chinese made up 40%, excluding large numbers of troops stationed in the region and unknown numbers of unregistered migrants.

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Has Xinjiang always been part of China?

Chinese Uighur delegates from Xinjiang province arrive for the first session of the National People's Congress (NPC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on 5 March 2014 Xinjiang officially became part of Communist China in 1949

The region has had an intermittent history of autonomy and occasional independence, but what is now known as Xinjiang came under Chinese rule in the 18th Century.

An East Turkestan state was briefly declared in 1949, but independence was short-lived. It was during that year that Xinjiang officially became part of Communist China.

In the 1990s, open support for separatist groups increased after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the emergence of independent Muslim states in Central Asia.

However, Beijing suppressed demonstrations and activists went underground.

Q&A: China and the Uighurs

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What is at the heart of the unrest?

An Uighur woman holds her relatives' ID cards who are are currently detained, as she and others protests on a street on 7 July 2009 in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang China's critics say authorities have stepped up a crackdown on Uighurs in recent years

While the issue is a complex one, many say that ethnic tensions caused by economic and cultural factors between the Uighurs and the Han Chinese are the root cause of violent incidents in the region.

In recent decades, major development projects in energy and industry have brought prosperity to Xinjiang's big cities. This has attracted young and technically-qualified Han Chinese from eastern provinces.

The Han Chinese are said to be given the best jobs and the majority do well economically, something that has fuelled resentment among Uighurs.

Herdsmen take part in a horse race during a local snow festival in Altay, Xinjiang region, 12 February 2014 The Uighur culture leans more towards Central Asia than China

Activists say Uighur religious, commercial and cultural activities have been gradually curtailed by the Chinese state. There are complaints that the Uighurs experience severe restrictions in the practice of their Muslim faith, with fewer mosques and strict control over religious schools.

Rights group Amnesty International, in a report published in 2013, said authorities criminalised "what they labelled 'illegal religious' and 'separatist' activities" and clamped down on "peaceful expressions of cultural identity".

In July 2014, some government departments in Xinjiang banned Muslim civil servants from fasting during Ramadan, considered a holy month in Islam. It was not the first time that China had restricted fasting in Xinjiang. But it followed a slew of attacks on the public attributed to Uighur extremists, prompting concerns the ban would increase tensions.

Making sense of the unrest from China's Xinjiang

China bans Xinjiang officials from observing Ramadan fast

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How has the violence developed?

File photo of Chinese Paramilitary policemen taking part in an anti-terrorism exercise involving local police, paramilitary and militia forces, in China's Xinjiang China has poured troops into the region in recent years as unrest has rumbled

China has been accused of intensifying its crackdown on the Uighurs after street protests in the 1990s and again in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

But things really escalated in 2009, with large-scale ethnic rioting in the regional capital, Urumqi. Some 200 people were killed in the unrest, most of them Han Chinese, according to officials.

File photo of a child looking out from a door as a Uighur woman walks by in a residential area in Turpan, Xinjiang Xinjiang's economy has largely revolved around agriculture and trade

Beijing then increased security in Xinjiang and detained many Uighurs as suspects. But violence rumbled on as right groups increasingly pointed to tight control by Beijing.

In June 2012 six Uighurs reportedly tried to hijack a plane from Hotan to Urumqi before they were overpowered by passengers and crew.

There was bloodshed in April 2013 and in June that year, 27 people died in Shanshan county after police opened fire on what state media described as a mob armed with knives attacking local government buildings

Establishing facts about these incidents is difficult, because foreign journalists' access to the region is tightly controlled.

Death on the Silk Route: Violence in Xinjiang

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Are the attacks changing?

Vehicles travel along Chang'an Avenue as smoke raises in front of a portrait of late Chinese Chairman Mao Zedong at Tiananmen Square in Beijing 28 October 2013 Chinese officials blamed the attack at Tiananmen Square on separatists from Xinjiang

In recent months, there appears to have been a shift towards larger-scale incidents where citizens have become the target.

At least 31 people were killed and more than 90 suffered injuries in May 2014 when two cars crashed through an Urumqi market and explosives were tossed into the crowd. China called it a "violent terrorist incident".

It followed a bomb and knife attack at Urumqi's south railway station in April, which killed three and injured 79 others.

Some incidents have taken place outside of Xinjiang. A March stabbing spree in Kunming in Yunnan province that killed 29 people was blamed on Xinjiang separatists, as was an October 2013 incident where a car ploughed into a crowd and burst into flames in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

In response to the latest slew of attacks, the authorities have launched what they call a "year-long campaign against terrorism".

This includes stepping up the security presence in cities in Xinjiang and conducting more military drills in the region.

There have also been reports of mass sentencings and arrests of several "terror groups". Chinese state media have reported long lists of people convicted of extremist activity and in some cases, death sentences.

A high-profile Uighur academic, Ilham Tohti, has also been detained since January 2014 on charges of separatism.

China sentences 55 people in Xinjiang stadium

Uighur academic Ilham Tohti 'denied food' in China jail

China jails 32 in Xinjiang on terror charges

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Who's to blame?

Chinese police walk past abandoned luggage at the scene of an attack at the main train station in Kunming, Yunnan province on 2 March 2014 China also blamed Xinjiang separatists for the brutal attack in March 2014 at Kunming station

China has often blamed ETIM - the East Turkestan Islamic Movement - or people inspired by ETIM for violent incidents both in Xinjiang and beyond the region's borders.

ETIM is said to want to establish an independent East Turkestan in China. The US State Department in 2006 said ETIM is "the most militant of the ethnic Uighur separatist groups".

The scope of ETIM's activities remains unclear with some questioning the group's capacity to organise serious acts of extremism.

ETIM has not said it was behind any of the attacks. Chinese authorities said the Turkestan Islamic Party - which it says is synonymous with ETIM - released a video backing the Kunming attack, however.

With the recent apparent escalation in Xinjiang-related violence, the question of who and what is driving it is likely to attract greater scrutiny.

Q&A: East Turkestan Islamic Movement

Tiananmen crash blamed on Islamists

Shock and anger after Kunming brutality

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