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BEIJING, Dec 30 (Reuters) - Police in China's restive far western region of Xinjiang shot dead eight people during a "terrorist attack" on Monday, the regional government said, the second outbreak of violent unrest this month in a region that has a substantial Muslim population.
The attack happened in Yarkand county close to the old Silk Road city of Kashgar in Xinjiang's far south, the Xinjiang government said in a statement on its official news website (www.ts.cn).
"At around 6:30 am, nine thugs carrying knives attacked a police station in Kashgar's Yarkand county, throwing explosive devices and setting police cars on fire," the brief statement said.
"The police took decisive measures, shooting dead eight and capturing one," it added, labelling the incident a "violent terrorist attack" which was being investigated further.
Earlier this month, police shot and killed 14 people during a riot near Kashgar in which two policemen were also killed.
In a similar outburst of violence, at least nine civilians and two policemen were killed when a group of people armed with axes and knives attacked a police station, also near Kashgar, last month, state media has said.
China has previously blamed some of the violence in Xinjiang on Islamist militants plotting holy war.
Rights groups and exiles say police often use often heavy-handed tactics against the Muslim Uighur community, which calls Xinjiang home. Violence has broken out previously when groups of Uighurs protest at police stations, they say.
China has stepped up security in Xinjiang after a vehicle ploughed into tourists on the edge of Beijing's Tiananmen Square in October, killing three people in the car and two bystanders.
China said the attack was carried out by Islamist militants.
Many of Xinjiang's Turkic-speaking, Muslim people chafe at restrictions on their culture, language and religion, though the government insists it grants them broad freedoms.
Xinjiang has been the scene of numerous incidents of unrest in recent years, which the government often blames on the separatist East Turkestan Islamic Movement, even though many experts and rights groups cast doubt on its existence as a cohesive group.
Many rights groups say China has long overplayed the threat posed to justify its tough controls in energy-rich Xinjiang, which lies strategically on the borders of Central Asia, India and Pakistan. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)