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BEIJING (Reuters) - A court in China's Xinjiang has sentenced two people to death and another to life imprisonment over deadly violence in the far western region where the government often blames what it calls Muslim separatists for causing unrest.
Twenty-one people were killed in a confrontation between police and residents in April that involved axes, knives and at least one gun and culminated in a house being burned down, in what authorities called a "terrorist attack".
In July 2009, Xinjiang's capital, Urumqi, was the scene of clashes between majority Han Chinese and minority Uighurs that killed nearly 200 people. In late June, 35 people died in another outbreak of violence.
Many Uighurs, Muslims who speak a Turkic language, complain of restrictions on their culture, language and religion. China says it grants them wide-ranging freedoms.
A court in the southern city of Kashgar found the five defendants, all of whom appeared to be Uighurs judging by their names, to be guilty of crimes including involvement in terrorism and intentional homicide, the Xinjiang government said in a statement on its news site (www.tianshannet.com).
Two defendants were given nine-year jail sentences.
The Xinjiang government did not name any group responsible for the violence, but China has blamed previous incidents in energy-rich Xinjiang - on the borders of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India - on Islamic separatists who want to establish an independent East Turkestan.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the exiled World Uyghur Congress, said previously that the violence was sparked by the shooting and killing of a young Uighur by "Chinese armed personnel", prompting the Uighurs to retaliate.
(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)