LANGCHENGGANG, China - Violent clashes in a village in central China killed seven people and injured 42, the government said Monday, as police imposed martial law on the area after the fighting between hundreds of rioters that pitted Muslim Chinese against non-Muslims.
The unrest began Wednesday after a traffic accident and lasted through Sunday, the government said in its first official report on the violence. Everything "is now under control," it said in the statement, run on the state news agency Xinhua.
Martial law has been imposed on the area in Zhongmou County near the city of Zhengzhou in Henan province, and thousands of police have been sent in to restore order. Eighteen people have been arrested, Xinhua said.
Some 400 to 500 rioters from the Han ethnic majority and the Hui Muslims clashed in the town of Langchenggang, burning several houses, residents said.
On Monday, thousands of police lined the road into the town. They stopped cars at checkpoints outside town, but it wasn't clear whether any were turned away. Foreign reporters who visited the area were detained. Government minivans with loudspeakers strapped to their roofs drove through the town broadcasting appeals for calm.
"I still dare not leave the house," said one man, who would give only his surname, Li, and who said he lived a half mile from the scene of the fighting. "To the west and east are Hui villages. So people are afraid to go outside."
Hui are ethnic Chinese whose ancestors converted to Islam. Han Chinese make up more than 90 percent of China's 1.3 billion people. The country has 55 officially recognized ethnic groups.
"A lot of people were carrying clubs to fight. They set fire to several houses," a Langchenggang resident with the surname Liu said by telephone. "Right now, there are lots of police. The local government is allowing residents to move around but everyone is afraid of going out."
Residents could not confirm a report by The New York Times that as many as 148 people were killed in the fighting.
The government statement did not give details on the traffic accident that sparked the fighting.
The Times said it broke out after a Han girl was struck and killed Friday by a Hui taxi driver. One resident, an accountant, said it began after three Hui men in a car beat up a 17-year-old Han boy who blocked the street.
That confrontation escalated until a group of 400-500 Hui came from a nearby town and large-scale clashes occurred, said the accountant.
A spokesman for the county government gave a different version, saying the violence began after a collision Wednesday between two farm vehicles, one driven by a Han and the other by a Hui.
The two men summoned help from relatives and fighting broke out, said the spokesman, Liang Songzhou. He said the violence spread Thursday and Friday. In addition to the one confirmed death, he said there might have been an additional two deaths.