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Tibetans, Muslim Huis clash in China

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BEIJING, China (Reuters) -- A group of Tibetans rioted in China's northwestern province of Qinghai this month after one of them was stabbed to death in a clash with members of the Muslim Hui ethnic minority.

Two Huis had been arrested for stabbing a 50-year-old Tibetan to death with a skewer during the clash in Jianza county on February 15, a police official said by telephone from the provincial capital, Xining on Sunday.

"Relations between ethnic Tibetans and Chinese Muslims in the region have been tense for years, but this incident marks the first known large-scale clash in recent memory," the U.S.-based broadcaster, Radio Free Asia, said in a report e-mailed to Reuters.

The official said several people were injured and a group of Tibetans went on a rampage, smashing windows of Hui-owned shops and restaurants.

"It all began when a group of Tibetan and Hui youths bickered over a game of billiards," the official told Reuters.

"It had nothing to do with religion," he added.

The official dismissed a report by Radio Free Asia that Chinese troops had been sent to the region to restore order.

He said dozens of policemen and about 100 local government officials were sent to the area to pacify the two ethnic groups.

The broadcaster, which is funded by the U.S. government, quoted sources in Tibet as saying hundreds were injured and Muslim-owned shops and restaurants were ransacked after a business dispute boiled over into clashes.

"Chinese authorities have responded by deploying extra troops around a bridge over the Machu or Huang Ho River, which demarcates Tibetan and Muslim living areas," the radio said.

The initial dispute followed the sale of a motorcycle by three Tibetans to a group of Muslims, the broadcaster said, adding that troops were still out in force patrolling the area by February 21.

Copyright 2003 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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