China sacks senior Xinjiang official for not fighting extremism

BEIJING (Reuters) - China has sacked and will prosecute a senior official in its violence-prone far western region of Xinjiang after a probe found he wasn't doing enough to tackle extremism in one of the most sensitive parts of the country and had taken bribes. Anti-graft watchdog the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI) said in a statement late on Saturday that Zhang Jinbiao, who was Communist Party chief for the Hotan region in Xinjiang's deep south, had broken party rules. Zhang "seriously violated political discipline and political rules and did not exert himself in carrying out his counter-terrorism and stability maintenance responsibilities, causing serious consequences", it said. Zhang took gifts, including money, abused his power and had "abnormal sexual relations with others", the statement said. Party officials are supposed to be upstanding members of the community, and accusations of sexual impropriety are often used to further blacken an accused person's name. 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, especially in the heavily Uighur southern part of Xinjiang. As a front line official in a part of China that has seen many militant attacks, Zhang had "an important leadership responsibility" but his ideology was weak and he did not follow instructions, the watchdog said, without giving details. China blames the violence in Xinjiang on Islamist extremists and separatists. Rights groups and Uighur exiles say it is more a product of Uighur frustration at Chinese controls on their culture and religion. China denies any repression. Zhang, 53, had been sacked and expelled from the party and his case would be handed over to legal authorities, the CCDI said, meaning that he would be prosecuted. It was not possible to reach Zhang for comment and it was unclear if he had been allowed to retain a lawyer. Several senior former Hotan officials have been caught up in President Xi Jinping's war on deep-seated graft, including Hotan's former Uighur mayor, Adil Nurmemet, who is now serving a 12-year jail term for corruption. Zhang, an ethic Han Chinese, has spent his entire working life in Xinjiang, according to his official resume. He only assumed the Hotan job in May last year and was put under investigation in January. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Paul Tait)