TURPAN, China - China on Friday labelled riots in restive Xinjiang as "a violent terrorist attack" after state media said the death roll rose to 35 and authorities tightened control ahead of the anniversary of 2009 clashes.
Wednesday's violence in the western desert region, which is home to 10 million mostly Uighur Muslims, were the worst to hit the resource-rich province since riots on July 5, 2009, left hundreds dead.
"We defined the attack as a violent terrorist attack," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters at a regular briefing in Beijing.
Some in the community have blamed the unrest on economic inequality and religious repression - claims that China rejects, pointing to regional investment and placing the blame instead on "terrorists".
The Xinhua state news agency said "knife-wielding mobs" in Turpan city's Lukqun township attacked police stations and set fire to cars before officers opened fire.
The clashes left 35 dead including 11 rioters, while a further 21 police and civilians were injured and four rioters detained, the report said.
The US-based Radio Free Asia reported a higher death toll of 46, also including 11 rioters, citing officials and residents.
The World Uyghur Congress, a group run by Uighurs in exile, said in a statement that the incident was "evidence of China's failed policies towards Uighurs".
It added that "an information blackout and security crackdown" in the area raised questions about the state media's version of events.
China closely restricts information about unrest in Xinjiang, and blocked access across the region for several months after the violence in 2009.