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China executes three for Kunming attack

Police walk past abandoned luggage at the scene of an attack at the main train station in Kunming, Yunnan province, on March 2, 2014/AFP

Police walk past abandoned luggage at the scene of an attack at the main train station in Kunming, Yunnan province, on March 2, 2014/AFP

BEIJING, Mar 24- China executed three people on Tuesday for a mass stabbing in Kunming that killed 31 people last year, the country’s top court said, with authorities blaming the attack on separatists from mainly Muslim Xinjiang.

Iskandar Ehet, Turgun Tohtunyaz and Hasayn Muhammad were put to death for “leading a terrorist organisation and intentional homicide”, the Supreme People’s Court said in a microblog post.

China uses both lethal injection and shooting for executions, but the method used this time was not specified.

The bloodshed in Kunming, in the southwestern province of Yunnan, saw more than 140 people wounded and was dubbed “China’s 9/11” by state run media.

Beijing blamed it on “separatists” from the resource rich far western Xinjiang region, where at least 200 have died in attacks and clashes between locals and security forces over the last year.

Incidents have grown in scale and sophistication and spread beyond the restive region, with the Kunming mass knifing the biggest such attack against civilians outside Xinjiang.

A female attacker, Patigul Tohti, was pregnant at the time of her arrest and was sentenced to life in prison.

Campaign groups accuse China’s government of cultural and religious repression which they say fuels unrest in Xinjiang.

The remote autonomous region, which borders Central Asia, is home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority.

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“China is using the death penalty for political means in order to avoid the root cause of the problem,” Dilxat Raxit, a spokesman for the Munich-based World Uyghur Congress, said in a statement.

“The defendants did not get a dignified trial and China used this event to incite discrimination against Uighurs.”

Beijing defends its policies, arguing it has boosted economic development in the area and that it upholds minority and religious rights in a country with 56 recognised ethnic groups.

However, China has also vowed to step up punishment of “violent terrorists”, and is drafting its first ever anti terrorism law.

Chinese courts convicted 712 people on terrorism related charges last year, an increase of more than 13 percent, according to chief justice Zhou Qiang.

The country executes more people than the rest of the world combined, according to rights organisations, and put an estimated 2,400 people to death in 2013.

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