- The Washington Times - Monday, November 1, 2004

LANGCHENGGANG, China — Police by the thousands patrolled this central Chinese town yesterday and residents hunkered down in their homes after deadly street fights between members of the country’s main ethnic group and a Muslim minority left at least seven persons dead.

Yesterday, minivans with loudspeakers strapped to their roofs drove through the dirt roads of Langchenggang and neighboring villages in Henan province, broadcasting appeals for calm.

As many as 5,000 people fought with sticks and burned several houses over the weekend in violence between Hui Muslims and members of the Han ethnic majority, according to Langchenggang residents interviewed by phone.

The fighting killed seven persons and injured 42, according to residents and the government. Langchenggang residents could not confirm a New York Times report that 148 persons, including 18 police officers, were killed.

Authorities imposed martial law on the area in Zhongmou County, near the city of Zhengzhou, residents said.

Eighteen persons were arrested, the government said late yesterday in its first official word on the fighting. The statement, carried by the Xinhua news agency, didn’t mention the ethnicities of the rioters.

The government said the violence began after members of two families from separate villages fought over a traffic dispute. A spokesman for the county government said the dispute involved a collision between two farm vehicles, one driven by a Han and the other by a Hui.

Yesterday, police officers lined the roads into Langchenggang beginning 6 miles from town. They stopped cars at checkpoints and turned some away. At least four foreign reporters who visited the area were detained.

Residents sat outside shabby brick homes beside piles of drying corn and watched silently as trucks and tour buses full of police officers roared through the main road that runs through the villages.

Today’s Hui are descended from ethnic Chinese who converted to Islam generations ago. Han Chinese make up more than 90 percent of China’s 1.3 billion people. China has 55 officially recognized ethnic groups.

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