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BEIJING (Reuters) - Dozens were killed in China's unrest-plagued Xinjiang region on Sunday, after a series of blasts triggered a shootout with police, state media said on Thursday.
Police shot dead 40 rioters, some of whom were seeking to blow themselves up, after the explosions went off in Luntai county, according to the news website www.ts.cn, which is run by the Xinjiang Communist Party committee.
The incident is the latest in a series of deadly attacks that have rocked the violence-prone western region. The government blamed the attacks on ethnic Uighur separatists, who it says want to form an independent country called East Turkestan.
The blasts on the northern edge of the Taklamakan desert in central Xinjiang came in succession, hitting a farmer's market, two local police stations, and a shop, the report said. Six people were killed and 54 more injured. Of those injured, 32 were Uighur and 22 were of the majority Han ethnicity.
It is difficult for foreign journalists to visit the area, rendering it almost impossible to reach an independent assessment of the situation.
Police arrested two rioters after killing 40 others. Four public security officers were killed in the fight, the report said.
The article said the leader of the attack, named Maimaiti Tuerxun, was killed in the shootout. A gradual tilt toward extremism had torn him away from his family, the report said, citing a police investigation into his background, and he later became the ringleader of a criminal gang.
The explosions came as China punished 17 regional officials and police "for being accountable" for a July 28 attack by masked militants that led to the deaths of almost 100 police, officials and civilians, and for the subsequent killing of a pro-Beijing imam.
Exiled Uighur groups and human rights activists say Beijing's repressive policies in Xinjiang, including curbs on religion and culture as well as economic and social disadvantages, have provoked a surge in unrest - a claim China denies.
Xinjiang is the traditional home of the Uighur people, who speak a Turkic language and are mostly Muslim.
In July, police shot dead dozens of knife-wielding attackers after they staged assaults on two Xinjiang towns.
Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Larry King