Police in China’s Xinjiang region have seized tens of thousands of matchboxes in the latest stage of their security crackdown in the restive region, according to official notices.

Police have made hundreds of arrests, suspects have been paraded at a mass sentencing rally, and armed patrols have taken to the streets of cities across China after a spate of deadly attacks that authorities blame on Islamist extremists and separatists from the north-western region.

Critics argue that anger has been fuelled among Xinjiang’s Uighur Muslim population by cultural and religious restrictions, large-scale Han migration and economic inequalities.

Religious controls appear to have been extended during Ramadan, with authorities ordering students and civil servants not to fast. Notices posted on the websites of colleges and government departments said the ban was intended to promote the wellbeing of young people and prevent educational institutions being used to promote religion.

Academics say that while such policies have been enforced in parts of Xinjiang for several years, they now appear to be more widespread and explicit. Uighur exiles have said such measures will increase tensions in the region.

Kashgar police said via an official social media account on Sunday that local police in Yarkant county, also known as Shache, had destroyed nearly 100,000 matchboxes recalled from shops, markets and hotels.

The same WeChat account said police in Kargilik or Yecheng county, also in Kashgar, had given residents disposable lighters in exchange for more than 6,000 confiscated matchboxes.

“The confiscation has enabled us to strengthen controls over important elements of public security and thus eliminate potential security threats,” said a caption accompanying the photo of a large pile of boxes.

In Changji city, the police website said officers had destroyed 20,000 boxes “to ensure matches would not be used by terrorist groups and extremist individuals to conduct criminal activities”.

It described the drive as part of attempts to manage dangerous goods that could be used to make explosive products.

It is not clear when the edicts against matches began: while most of the notices date from this week, The Securities Times reported in late May that a routine police check of hotels in Korla found one was providing matchboxes in guestrooms – a common practice in China, where smoking is widespread. Police confiscated 20 boxes and criticised the hotel’s executives it said, citing a Xinjiang government-owned news portal… see more

source: Guardian UK