March 11, 2015 / 10:58 AM / in 3 years

China investigates former boss of Xinjiang's capital for suspected corruption

BEIJING (Reuters) - A former senior official in the capital of China’s restive western region of Xinjiang who was sacked after deadly riots in 2009 has been put under investigation for suspected corruption, the graft watchdog said on Wednesday.

Li Zhi, the one-time Communist Party Secretary in Urumqi, was replaced without explanation shortly after protests almost six years ago there inflamed enmity between mostly Muslim Uighurs and majority Han Chinese, leading to violence in which nearly 200 people died.

Those protests marked one of the deadliest outbreaks of inter-ethnic violence in a region that since has been marred by killings the government blames on Islamist separatists seeking to establish an independent state called East Turkestan.

Li was suspected of “serious breaches of discipline and violations of law”, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection said in a one-line statement on its website, terms that are party parlance for corruption.

The statement did not give further information about the allegations against Li. Reuters was not able to locate contact information for him and it is not clear if he had a lawyer.

Urumqi was put under heavy security following the 2009 riots, and despite his removal as the city’s top party boss, Li maintained his post as vice head of Xinjiang’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee until 2013.

Other Xinjiang officials have been pulled into a crackdown on corruption presided over by President Xi Jinping, who has warned that the problem is so severe it could affect the party’s ability to maintain power.

In October, the Uighur mayor of Hotan, a major city in the heavily Uighur south of Xinjiang, was put under investigation for corruption. Prosecutors have also investigated a former Communist Party chief of the Xinjiang Police College, which trains public security officials.

Hundreds of people have died in violence in recent years in Xinjiang. But rights groups say the unrest is more to do with Beijing’s harsh restrictions on the Uighur people’s religious and cultural customs and doubt the existence of a cohesive group fighting the government.

Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Nick Macfie

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