Chinese state media say 27 people were killed during riots in the ethnically divided, northwestern province of Xinjiang, in the worst outbreak of violence in the restive region in nearly four years.
The Xinhua news agency says the riots began early Wednesday when "knife-wielding mobs" attacked police stations, a local government building, and a construction site in the remote Lukqun township of Shanshan County.
The report said the rioters stabbed people and set fire to police cars, killing nine security officials and eight civilians before police opened fire and shot dead 10 suspects. It said police captured three rioters and are searching for an unknown number of others.
It gave no information on what led to the riots and did not comment on the ethnicity of those involved.
Xinjiang sees regular violent outbreaks between the predominantly Muslim ethnic minority Uighurs and and the Han Chinese majority. Many Uighurs blame the violence on religious and cultural discrimination resulting from a massive influx of Han.
Dolkun Isa, secretary of the World Uighur Congress, tells VOA it is difficult to confirm what exactly happened in Wednesday's unrest because of the heavy police presence and atmosphere of "martial law" that he says now exists in the area.
But he did not dispute the assertion that a mob of Uighurs may have raided a police station, saying such attacks happen out of what he sees as an understandable sense of revenge.
"Of course. People get the feelings of revenge. Because the police always are restricting the daily lives of people," he said. "They don't allow space for normal life for them. Because Chinese police and the Chinese government are always interrupting their daily lives. They have no space."
China says it grants Uighurs wide-ranging freedoms, but insists that it faces a growing threat from terrorists or extremists in the Uighur community who want to form a separate state called East Turkestan.
But exiled Uighur activists such as Isa dispute those charges, saying China is exaggerating the threat to justify its heavy police presence and monitoring of Muslim religious institutions.
Wednesday's clashes were the worst since 2009, when over 200 people died during riots that saw the Turkic-speaking Uighurs fight against state security forces and Han Chinese.
In April, 21 people died following clashes between locals and police in the heavily ethnic Uighur area of Kashgar.