A clash at a police station that left at least four people dead in western China’s restive Xinjiang region was “a terrorist attack,” a government official said on Tuesday, but an exile Uighur group accused police of firing on peaceful protesters.

Police in the desert city of Hotan “gunned down” several rioters who attacked a police station, Xinhua said on Tuesday, the worst violence Xinjiang has experienced in about a year.

But a Germany-based exile group, World Uyghur Congress, disputed the official account. It said 20 Uighurs were killed — 14 were beaten to death and 6 shot dead — and 70 arrested when police opened fire on a peaceful protest, leading to fighting between the two sides.

The two accounts could not be independently resolved on Tuesday.

Beijing, wary of instability and the threat to the Communist Party’s grip on power, often blames what it calls violent separatist groups in Xinjiang for attacks on police or other government targets, saying they work with al Qaeda or Central Asian militants to bring about an independent state called East Turkestan.

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