In a rare mass trial held in front of 7,000 people in a sports stadium — a sight common in China during the days of the Cultural Revolution three decades ago — Chinese authorities have sentenced 55 people on terrorism charges in the western Muslim-majority Xinjiang region.

The mass trial, held in Ili prefecture, was the latest sign of a deepening government clampdown in Xinjiang, where a year-long anti-terror campaign has been launched following a string of terror attacks on railway stations and a market that have left more than 70 people killed and several hundred injured.

The Ili court said the 55 people were convicted of “intentional homicide, splitting the country, or organising and taking part in terrorist activities.”

That the trial was held publicly in a sports stadium underlined the government’s intent to show its tough stand on cracking down on terror, the deputy head of the prefecture’s Communist Party body, Li Minghui, told the 7,000 residents at the hearing.

The trial came as the official Xinhua news agency reported that authorities had detained five suspects and seized 1.8 tonnes of explosive material in the southern Hotan region.

The group, officials said, was attempting an attack similar to the May 22 blasts at a market place in Urumqi, the regional capital, that left at least 39 people killed and more than 90 injured as assailants hurled bombs as they drove vans into a crowd.

Authorities this week expressed fears that the attacks could affect Xinjiang’s economy, particularly tourism.

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