China rubbishes prison deaths claim

BEIJING: China on Wednesday dismissed as "groundless" a claim by the exiled leader of the Uighur minority that nearly 200 inmates were killed in a prison in the restive Xinjiang region, state media reported.

The Global Times carried the denial two days after Rebiya Kadeer, who now lives in the United States, quoted an unnamed policeman as saying 196 Uighurs detained in a clampdown in Xinjiang "were tortured and killed".

"I have no idea where the figure of 196 comes from," said Hou Hanmin, a spokeswoman for the government in Xinjiang, a Muslim-majority region in northwest China, according to the English-language paper.

"The number of officially arrested remains at 83."

She said the claim about the killings, which allegedly happened in the wake of deadly unrest in the Xinjiang capital of Urumqi in early July, "was so groundless that it was not even worth an argument," the paper reported.

AFP on Tuesday sought comment from the Xinjiang government on Kadeer's claim, but received no response.

China's worst ethnic violence in decades broke out on July 5 in Urumqi, pitting Han Chinese against Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking people. At least 197 people died in the unrest, according to official figures.