Clash in China's Xinjiang injures 40 -rights group

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BEIJING, Oct 4 (Reuters) A clash between farmers and police in China's northwestern region of Xinjiang over the price of cotton injured at least 40 people, a Hong Kong human rights watchdog said today.

Tensions erupted in the Suxingtan area of Xinjiang after villagers farming cotton on fields contracted from a paramilitary group began to sell the cotton in the market, rather than back to the group, resentful of the low prices they were being offered.

The land was owned by the Construction and Production Corps, a paramilitary organisation formed in the 1950s by disbanded soldiers aimed at bringing restive areas under Beijing's control.

As China moved away from a planned economy most regiments of the corps were dissolved, but the group survived in the Central Asian border region of Xinjiang, which is home to a large minority of Turkic-speaking, largely Muslim Uighurs.

The paramilitary group set up checkpoints to try to stop farmers from selling the cotton, and police made midnight raids on households in late September.

That aroused the anger of residents, who attacked the checkpoints and the Suxingtan police station the following day, smashing equipment and a police car.

''At least 40 people were injured and 25 people detained.

Currently, the situation is still developing,'' the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said in a statement.

All but two of the people were released shortly after being detained on Sept. 23, the group said.

An official at the Suxingtan police station hung up the telephone on being asked about the incident.

Although China's ruling Communist Party cracks down hard on unrest, conflicts between residents and authorities have become common, in part spurred by economic disparities and anger over official corruption.

REUTERS JK RK1510

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