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Prefecture in China’s Xinjiang to track cars by satellite

BEIJING >> A prefecture in China’s far western Xinjiang region is requiring all vehicles to install satellite tracking systems as part of stepped-up measures against violent attacks.

Traffic police in Bayingolin Mongol Autonomous Prefecture announced the regulation on Sunday, shortly after thousands of heavily armed police paraded in the Xinjiang capital and ruling Communist Party officials vowed to ramp up their campaign against separatists and Islamic militants.

The vehicle-tracking program in Bayingolin will utilize China’s homegrown Beidou satellite system, launched in recent years to reduce China’s reliance on U.S.-based GPS providers for sensitive applications. Authorities said they will also track cars using RFID technology embedded in license plates.

“In recent years, the terrorist situation around the world has become severe, and cars are the main means of transport for terrorists,” said prefectural authorities in an online statement. Authorities aimed to register and track up to 20,000 vehicles, the statement said.

Gas stations will only serve cars equipped with the tracking system, according to a separate local news report. Police officials in the prefecture confirmed the tracking program to the AP on Tuesday but declined to answer questions.

Xinjiang officials have sharply increased surveillance, street searches and police patrols in recent years amid bombings, vehicle and knife attacks blamed on separatist militants from the native ethnic Uighur minority. Uighur activists say economic marginalization and a repressive government presence — including restrictions on Muslim religious and cultural practices — have fueled resentment and feed a vicious cycle of radicalization and violence.

Xinjiang shares a border with Afghanistan, Pakistan and several unstable Central Asian states.

The Chinese government denies religious discrimination and says its policies are needed to maintain stability in a region targeted by militant Islamic radicals.

Despite the constant state of police lockdown, three knife-wielding attackers killed five and injured five others in Xinjiang’s far western Pishan county last week, while several clashes between police forces and militants have been reported in recent months in the region’s southern towns.

At a Saturday rally in the regional capital of Urumqi, Xinjiang party official Zhu Hailun exhorted rows of rifle-toting soldiers and police in tactical anti-riot uniforms to use their “hot blood and loyalty” to defend the people and deal a “crushing, obliterating blow” against separatist and radical Islamic forces from Central Asia.

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