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Last Updated: Monday, 1 November, 2004, 14:19 GMT
Ethnic violence hits China region
Martial law has been imposed in parts of the Chinese province of Henan after ethnic clashes in which at least seven people were killed.

More than 40 people were also injured in the violence, and 18 were arrested, China's Xinhua news agency reported.

The clashes were between members of China's majority Han community and the Muslim Hui ethnic group.

Residents are quoted as saying that houses were set alight, and people were fighting using farm tools.

Xinhua did not say that the clash was between Hui and the Han people. China's ruling Communist Party, which keeps strict control over the media, plays down any reports of ethnic tensions, out of fear of social disorder.

Neither is it clear exactly what triggered the violence.

But it appears to be the worst incident between the Hui and Han people in several years.

'So afraid'

According to Xinhua, the violence started on 27 October when Mr Lu, from Nanren village, began a fight with Mr Liu, from nearby Nanwei village.

The fight was allegedly about a traffic accident, which according to a separate report in the New York Times involved a Hui taxi driver running over a 6-year-old Han girl.

HUI MINORITY
Mainly descendants of 13th century C Asian immigrants
8.5m-strong, third largest of China's 55 minorities
Widely dispersed across China, look and speak like majority Han
Islam central to identity

After the fight, several Nanren villagers rushed to Mr Liu's home and assaulted him and his family, Xinhua said.

Then residents of both villages assembled and resumed the battle.

"One villager was beaten to death on the spot and two died in the hospital one day later," Xinhua said.

The news agency did not say how the other deaths occurred.

According to witness statements, several houses were burned down during the violence, and a brick factory was destroyed, as the rival groups fought each other with sticks.

"People were so afraid," one witness told Reuters. "No-one dared to go to work or go outside. Even the transport has been stopped."

Villagers contacted by the BBC said hundreds of riot police had been drafted into the area and a news blackout imposed.

Correspondents say clashes between the Han, who make up the vast majority of China's population, and the 8.5m-strong Hui minority are not common.

But tensions may have been exacerbated by China's economic success, which has seen a growing gap between rich and poor.

And there has been a general increase in unrest in rural areas fuelled by dissatisfaction over poverty and corruption, correspondents say.




SEE ALSO:
Chinese Muslims forge isolated path
15 Sep 04 |  Asia-Pacific
China's rural poor left behind
22 Sep 04 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: China
26 Oct 04 |  Country profiles


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