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By Barbara Demick, Los Angeles Times

BEIJING — In a spectacle designed to show their resolve against terrorism, Chinese authorities held a public sentencing in a football stadium in the northwestern Xinjiang region of 55 people convicted of violent crimes.

More than 7,000 people filled the stadium stands in Yili prefecture during Tuesday’s sentencing and videos were distributed by police Wednesday to Chinese media. It was an unusually public display in a country where court proceedings are normally closed to the public.

The sentencing follows the car bombing last week in the northwestern city of Urumqi in which 43 people died, the deadliest attack in China in nearly five years.

From the names of the defendants provided by authorities, they appeared to be ethnic Uighurs. Uighurs are a mostly Muslim, Turkic-speaking people from northwestern China.

Li Minghui, the deputy secretary of the local Communist Party, was quoted by the New China News Agency predicting that religious extremists and separatists would soon become “as unpopular as rats crossing the street.”

The defendants were convicted of crimes including homicide, membership in terrorist organizations, harboring criminals and secession, which in China refers to ethnic minorities coveting their own state.

Details of the crimes were not released except in one case: the murder in April 2013 of a family of four, including a 3-year-old child, who were killed with hatchets and knives in their rented apartment. The family had recently moved from central China, and the implication was that they were killed because they were ethnic Han, the Chinese majority.

The three men convicted of the murder were given death sentences, according to state media.

China is on high alert after a cluster of bombings and stabbings of increasing sophistication and lethality. In last week’s attack, two SUVs crashed through a barricade into a crowded pedestrian market while their occupants hurled bombs through the car windows.

Last month, passengers at the Urumqi train station were attacked with knives and bombs on the same day that President Xi Jinping was visiting the region.

Jacob Zenn, an analyst with the Washington-based Jamestown Foundation, said terrorism might come to dominate Xi’s leadership in much the same way it did for President George W. Bush.

“Terrorism might come to mark the first five years of Xi Jinping’s term, and it’s not an easy battle to win because you are judged,” Zenn said. “Every attack is a loss for you. It’s going to be hard to be foolproof on this.”

More than 200 people have been arrested in Xinjiang in recent weeks. On Tuesday, local authorities said they had busted a bomb-making gang out of Hotan in the Xinjiang region and confiscated 1.8 tons of explosives.

Chinese authorities said the plotters had been inspired and instructed by jihadist videos.

Photo: Akasped via Flickr
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