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China berates foreign media for Tiananmen attack doubts

BEIJING (Reuters) - China's Foreign Ministry on Monday took a swipe at foreign media for suggesting there may have been social or ethnic motivations behind last week's incident involving a car driven into pedestrians on Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

Last Monday, a car ploughed through bystanders on the edge of Tiananmen Square and burst into flames, killing the three people in the car and two bystanders. The government called the incident a "terrorist attack" carried out by Islamist militants from the far western region of Xinjiang.

More than 40 people were hurt, and the police have detained five people in connection with the attack.

But Uighur exiles, rights groups and some experts have cast doubt on the official accounts. Foreign reporting of the incident has discussed whether punitive action against Muslim Uighurs in Xinjiang was behind for the incident.

China has long said it grants all its ethnic minorities broad freedoms.

"Some people have linked the violent terrorist act of crashing into innocent civilians and tourists with China's ethnic and religious policy and have even slandered China's ethnic and religious policy," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a news briefing. "This is connivance with terrorists."

"We express our strong disapproval," he said, when asked about media reports disputing the police's account of the incident.

State-run media have only reported the government line, as is standard for sensitive stories.

"China consistently opposes any form of terrorism and opposes double standards on this issue," Hong added. He urged the media to take an "objective and fair" stance, adding that "any person with a conscience should condemn" the incident.

DISTORTION

Hong's comments follow commentaries by state media, including broadcaster CCTV and the Global Times, a popular tabloid owned by the Communist Party's People's Daily, both of which accused U.S. news network CNN of distorting the facts.

"The article may reflect the opinion and attitude of a certain number of Americans. But it is of a vile nature to present such a view at the mainstream media," the Global Times said in an editorial on Monday.

CNN published an op-ed last week, questioning whether the incident "was a well-prepared terrorist act or a hastily assembled cry of desperation from a people on the extreme margins of the Chinese state's monstrous development machine".

CNN, in a statement, said the article was simply an opinion piece. "As with all opinion pieces that appear on cnn.com, the views expressed are solely those of the author and do not in any way reflect the position of CNN," it said.

A website was set up on Monday to "support the Xinjiang terrorists, CNN, getting out of China." As of Monday evening, more than 20,000 people signed the petition.

China keeps Xinjiang, strategically located on the borders of Central Asia, Pakistan and India, under tight security, making it difficult to make an independent assessment of the situation there.

Armed police last week prevented Reuters reporters from entering Lukqun, the home town of one of the detained suspects, sending them back to the nearby city of Turpan.

(Reporting by Sui-Lee Wee; Editing by Ron Popeski)

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