Chinese Officials Defend Dealings with Tibetans, Uighur Muslims བོད་སྐད།

Chinese officials say the recent attacks by Uighur separatists in the Western province of Xinjiang are not a sign of wider unrest in the region. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Beijing, officials who met with reporters Saturday defended China's dealings with ethnic minority populations, including Tibetans.

Chinese policies and law department official Mao Gongning, appearing at a news conference on ethnic minority rights, called the recent attacks in Xinjiang the work of a handful of criminals. He says they will not affect relations between Beijing and China's eight million Uighur Muslims, who are based in the far-western province.

He says the attacks are not related to ethnic or religious issues.

Chinese officials say Uighur separatists have carried out three violent attacks in Xinjiang in the past two weeks, killing 16 policemen in one incident and three security officers in another.

The government official says most of China's Uighurs welcome the economic progress in the region, although he says minority areas such as Xinjiang and Tibet lag behind China's more developed eastern coastline.

China has also dealt with simmering tensions in Tibet and nearby Chinese provinces since riots in March. The government says the riots claimed the lives of 22 people, mostly ethnic Chinese. Tibet's Indian-based government-in-exile says more than 200 Tibetans were killed in a crackdown by Chinese forces on anti-government protesters and rioters.

Government officials accuse the Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama, of backing a separatist movement, which he denies. Asked about the Dalai Lama's support among Tibetans, Chinese ethnic affairs official Wu Shimin said the Dalai Lama's supporters use religion to entice the public. But he denies that the Buddhist leader has a large following.

The Chinese official accuses the Western media of biased reporting and says it ignores the economic advances in Tibet and other minority regions.

Security is tight surrounding the Beijing Olympics, following threats by Uighur separatists of a terrorist attack to disrupt the games. Officials in Beijing insist the games are safe.

Chinese security personnel are reportedly keeping close watch on Uighur residents of Beijing, and China has tightened visa restrictions to keep out potential foreign protesters. A British reporter was dragged from the scene and briefly detained Wednesday as he covered a pro-Tibet demonstration, one of several small protests in recent days. Five foreigners who unfurled a banner saying "Free Tibet" were detained and have since been deported.