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China has launched a bitter attack on Muslim separatists, invoking the shrill rhetoric of the early days of the communist movement, branding them an "imperialist" threat to stability.

Separatists in the far western region of Xinjiang were conducting counter-revolutionary, or subversive, activities aided by Western imperialists, the Xinjiang Daily said."Ethnic separatism and illegal religious activities have become a key threat to the stability of the region," the newspaper said in a tough commentary Monday.

"As can be seen from the developments in Xinjiang's recent history, the destructive activities of the ethnic separatists have never stopped. There has never been an end to the struggle between separatists and anti-separatists," the newspaper said.

Xinjiang, a largely Muslim region area bordering Afghanistan, Pakistan and three mainly Muslim Central Asian states, has a long history of ethnic unrest and has been hit by sporadic pro-independence bombings and assassination attempts in recent months.

The China Business Times said in June that authorities in the restive region had dealt with six cases of "terrorists" who had killed rural officials and assassinated progressive religious leaders.

In May, China ordered tighter border controls in the region to prevent the smuggling of weapons and subversive materials from neighbouring Muslim states. It also ordered a crackdown on campuses in the sprawling region.

In the same month, separatists wanted for an attack on a Muslim leader and a government adviser were shot dead in a gunbattle.

The Xinjiang Daily said that, judging from the international background, acts of sabotage by ethnic separatists "were without exception conducted under the support of the `imperialists' and aimed at Westernizing and splitting our nation."

The commentary went on to say that the Communist Party has allowed religious freedom but that some illegal religious activities had been allowed to interfere with government administration and education policies.