Six people were reported dead in the central Chinese city of Changsha on Friday after a fight broke out between two ethnic minority Uyghur market stallholders, official media reported.
The fight broke out initially between two vendors in an open-air market in Changsha's Kaifu district, after which one vendor stabbed the other with a knife before going on to stab four other bystanders, Changsha municipal police department said on its official microblog site on Sina Weibo.
"The incident took place at 10:15 when a fight broke out between two vendors, which led to one vendor being fatally stabbed," the statement said.
"The perpetrator fled the scene and randomly attacked four more people in the nearby vicinity, of whom two died at the scene," it said. "Police arrived shortly afterwards and shot the attacker dead."
An eyewitness surnamed Lu told RFA's Cantonese service said he witnessed the killing at around 10.00 a.m.
"I saw him kill the man," Lu said. "He used a big knife they use for cutting the bread. It started as a fight inside one of those Xinjiang bread shops, and then he stabbed the other guy to death."'Happened so suddenly'
Lu said he then saw the man come running out of a shop in the district at around 10.00 a.m., shouting crazily and stabbing with his knife at passersby.
"Four people didn't get out of the way in time, and ended up on the ground," Lu said. "I had already called the police when I saw him kill the guy."
"It happened so suddenly," he added.
A local resident surnamed Wang said she believed the fight was personal, and had little to do with possible ethnic tension in the city.
"After he was done killing his friend, he went out and started randomly killing innocent people," she said.
"I saw [the aftermath]," Wang said. "One of those who died was an older woman, and one was from Xinjiang. The police didn't come for a long time after they were called."
"I went and called the police...[They took] over 10 minutes to arrive," she added.
A third eyewitness who declined to give a name, said many people had run away from the scene of the attacks.
"I just saw a lot of people running away," he said. "I didn't know why they were running. It made me feel very panicky."
The remaining victims were sent to hospital but died as a result of their injuries, the police statement said.
Police officers have cordoned off the site, and a nearby primary school has been closed, official reports added.
Bodies in the street
Photos from the scene posted to Sina Weibo showed bodies lying on a busy city street, and anxious parents clustered at the gates of the nearby primary school to meet their children.
The official Xinhua news agency identified the original two vendors as ethnic Uyghurs, whose homeland is in the troubled northwestern region of Xinjiang.
"A knife fight broke out between businessmen Hebir Turdi and Memet Abla at around 10:15 am at Shahuqiao Market in northern Changsha city, the provincial capital," the agency reported.
"Abla was hacked to death by Turdi, who later stabbed four passersby as he ran away. Police shot Turdi, killing him," it said.
Stabbings follow 'terror attack'
The incident comes as China is still reeling from a series of fatal March 1 stabbings that left 33 dead in the southwestern city of Kunming, in what authorities have labeled a "terror attack" carried out by Uyghur separatists.
There was no mention of terrorism in official reports on the Changsha attack, which was reported as an escalation of a row between a bread vendor and a customer.
The Kunming attacks prompted fears that China's mostly Muslim Uyghur minority could face a backlash of further discrimination as the authorities tighten security restrictions based on ethnic profiling.
Local residents, business owners, and exile groups have already reported tougher security measures targeting Uyghurs in many Chinese cities.
Earlier this week, authorities in the southwestern province of Yunnan, of which Kunming is the capital, were deporting large numbers of ethnic minority Uyghurs back to Xinjiang following the Kunming railway station attacks, which official media have dubbed "China's 9/11."
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.