Chinese authorities in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang have imposed an information blackout in Hotan prefecture after a violent incident on Friday involving ethnic minority Uyghurs and police, overseas rights groups and local sources said.
At least seven people died and at least seven more were injured in the clashes, in which a young Uyghur man reportedly set off an explosive device, an employee who answered the phone at a hospital in Hotan's Guma (in Chinese, Pishan) county told RFA.
"There were seven or eight [injured] people brought here," the Pishan County Hospital employee said, adding: "There was a bomb."
"There were seven or eight [deaths] or thereabouts," he said.
Asked if the bomb was detonated by a Uyghur youth, according to online reports, the employee replied: "Uhuh."
But he hung up the phone when asked for further details.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Germany-based World Uyghur Congress (WUC), said his group had also received reports of a violent incident in Guma on Friday.
"Our sources tell us that some people showed resistance to armed security personnel, which led to deaths and injuries," Raxit said.
"But it's very hard to get concrete figures, owing to the government's tight information blackout."
He added: "We are certain that clashes occurred between local Uyghur people and the police, and that these led to deaths and injuries."
A business owner in Guma's county town said the area has been under tight security since the attack.
"The riot police are here, with their batons, shields and sirens," the business owner said. "If any emergency arises, I can raise the alarm immediately, and my shop will be immediately surrounded by police [within] five minutes."
"There are police guarding the larger supermarkets," he said. "There are frequent patrols, one every 10 minutes, and there are a lot of security personnel on all the major routes into the town."
"They are checking Uyghurs and Han Chinese pretty much alike."
Last October, two Uyghurs went on a stabbing spree in Pishan, killing three police officers and three government officials before they were gunned down by the authorities, local officials said at the time.
Abdurehim Tuniyaz, 25, and Ablikim Abdurehim, 26, may have been mounting a revenge attack over the death in police custody of one of their brothers, one source said.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party last year launched an anti-terror campaign in Xinjiang following a string of deadly attacks blamed by Beijing on Uyghur separatists and Islamist insurgents seeking to establish an independent state.
But rights groups accuse the Chinese authorities of heavy-handed rule in Xinjiang, including violent police raids on Uyghur households, restrictions on Islamic practices, and curbs on the culture and language of the Uyghur people.
Uyghurs say they have long suffered ethnic discrimination, oppressive religious controls, and continued poverty and joblessness in Xinjiang despite China's ambitious plans to develop its vast northwestern frontier.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.