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China tests new hardware in Xinjiang counterterror exercise

China has tested 21 new pieces of security equipment, including drones, during a counterterrorism exercise in the western region of Xinjiang, state media said on Tuesday, as it strengthens its presence in the violence-prone area.

Hundreds of people have been killed during the past few years in resource-rich Xinjiang, strategically located on the borders of central Asia, in violence between the Muslim Uygur people who call the region home and the ethnic majority Han.

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The government has blamed the unrest on Islamist militants, although rights groups and exiles say anger at Beijing’s controls on the religion and culture of Uygurs is more to blame for the unrest. China denies any repression in Xinjiang.

The five-day exercise took place around the cities of Kasghar, Hotan and Aksu, the People’s Liberation Army Daily reported. Southern parts of Xinjiang are deep in the Uygur heartland and at the forefront of China’s security efforts.

The official Xinhua news agency said the exercises involved more than 3,000 people and were part of efforts to combat “violent terrorist attacks … based on the current security situation in southern Xinjiang”.

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The equipment tested included assault helicopters and all-terrain assault vehicles, Xinhua said.

“The exercise strengthened the country’s anti-terrorism system and examined the battle capability of antiterror equipment,” it said.

“The exercise also examined the force’s ability to carry out missions in complicated circumstances such as in cold mountainous regions, desert and residential areas.”

Xinjiang has generally been quiet this year, with no major attacks or other violent incidents reported.

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