China official says Xinjiang's Muslims are "happiest in world"

BEIJING (Reuters) - Muslims living in China's far western region of Xinjiang are the happiest in the world and people should not believe the lies spread by extremists and their Western supporters, a senior official wrote on Friday in an unusually strongly worded piece. Hundreds of people have been killed in Xinjiang in the past few years in violence between Uighurs, a mostly Muslim people who speak a Turkic language, and ethnic majority Han Chinese, blamed by Beijing on Islamist extremists. Rights groups and Uighur exiles say the unrest is more a product of Uighur frustration at Chinese controls on their culture and religion. China denies any repression. Writing in the official Xinjiang Daily, the region's deputy foreign publicity director, Ailiti Saliyev, said Xinjiang was stable, harmonious, prosperous, open and modern. Visitors see this for themselves when they visit, subverting the impression created in Western media of the opposite, he added. "Many people say from the bottom of their heart: 'The happiest Muslims in the world live in Xinjiang'," he wrote. The problem stems from the "evil collusion" between extremists and "hostile Western forces", the official added, without offering any names. "They coordinate with hostile Western forces to wantonly spread rumours, misrepresent, vilify and besmirch Xinjiang in the overseas media," he added. Extremists unfairly accuse the government of trying to annihilate the Uighur language and culture with development projects and promotion of bilingual education and of seeking to ban religion with measures to ensure people's safety, he said. They also laud criminal elements as "warriors resisting the oppression of the Han Chinese government" and "the mother of the Uighurs", the official added, a reference to Uighur leader Rebiya Kadeer, once a successful businesswoman who now lives in exile in the United States. Groups overseas who claim to speak for Uighurs are nothing more than "running dogs and pawns" of the same hostile Western forces, the official said, adding his mission as a Uighur himself is to tell the real facts about Xinjiang to the world. "Xinjiang's image will brook no distortion," he wrote. While foreign reporters can easily visit Xinjiang, unlike Tibet which requires special permission, the government keeps a close watch on their movements, making interference-free reporting hard. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie)