A security volunteer checks a passengers baggage near the Beijing railway station on Monday. (Getty Images)
Beijing, Aug. 4 (Reuters): Suspected Muslim separatists with homemade bombs and knives killed 16 policemen in western China today, state media said, reporting one of the worst attacks by militants on Chinese soil just four days before the Olympics.
The attack, which occurred about 4,000km from the capital in the old Silk Road city of Kashgar, was a reminder of internal tensions in China, especially in its ethnically mixed and largely Muslim west.
Police, who had previously warned ethnic Uighur separatists had been planning attacks in the run-up to the Games, said they had arrested two attackers and identified them as Uighurs.
President Hu Jintao told a meeting of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) the Games would display the desire of the worlds most populous country to join with the rest of the planet in building a bright future.
The Beijing Organising Committee of the Games said it was sure athletes and spectators would be safe, while the IOC also reassured millions of visitors and more than 10,000 athletes taking part in what it called a landmark event.
The IOC is confident the Chinese authorities have done everything possible to ensure the security and safety of everyone at the Games, it said.
About 100,000 police and soldiers are on standby ahead of Fridays opening ceremony, and security has already been stepped up in Tiananmen Square, scene of pro-democracy protests in 1989, with all visitors bags being screened.
In the restive and remote western Xinjiang region, the attackers drove up and tossed homemade bombs at a group of police jogging through the street on their morning exercises today, Xinhua reported. They then attacked with knives. In addition to the 16 police killed, 16 officers were wounded.
Ahead of the Olympics, it is a very powerful symbolic attack because security in Xinjiang is at an all-time high, said Nicholas Bequelin of Human Rights Watch.
Xinjiang is home to some 8 million Muslim, Turkic-speaking Uighurs, many of them resentful of Chinese controls on religion and the big ethnic Han Chinese presence.
But the people of Beijing are determined to make the Games a success. Several hundred thousand smiling volunteers, mainly students, man every street corner to shepherd visitors around.
You see, we are not as nasty as some of you in the western media say we are, said one 21-year-old female engineering student, handing coffee to visiting reporters.
There is a strong sense of excitement in the city, but the number of foreign visitors has been disappointing. Hotels said they were slashing room prices by as much as half because reservations have fallen far short of expectations.
People are thought to have shied away because of visa restrictions and bad publicity about China. Thousands more fans had their hopes of coming dashed after being swindled by an international Internet scam offering bogus tickets. The IOC said it was taking action to shut down the fraudsters, but it was too late to help victims from the United States, China, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Norway and Britain, including relatives of some athletes.