BEIJING 2014 (AFP) - Attackers armed with knives killed three people in China Friday, an official said, ruling out terrorism two weeks after a mass stabbing blamed on Xinjiang militants left 29 people dead and stunned the nation.
"Three people died," an official in Changsha, the capital of central Hunan province, told AFP by phone. "I can assure you it's not a terror attack. It happened in a market due to some dispute."
After an argument between two vendors from China's far-west Xinjiang region, one man stabbed the second, then attacked other people, killing three bystanders and seriously wounding two more before running away, the Hunan Evening News reported.
Another assailant was shot dead by police, and two more people - including one woman - have been detained, the paper added.
One of the victims was an elderly woman in her 80s who had just walked onto the street, a Hunan radio station said, adding that the attacker ran a bakery.
Three people were killed, it said on its account on Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter, citing police.
Photos posted on Sina Weibo - whose authenticity could not be verified - appeared to show the bloodied bodies of three men on the ground, with armed police and bystanders nearby. Another showed a man being taken away by officers.
The incident came after a group of attackers went on a stabbing spree at a railway station in the southwestern city of Kunming in Yunnan province late on March 1, leaving 29 people dead and 143 injured in what domestic media have dubbed China's "9/11".
Four assailants - some wearing black with their faces covered - were shot dead at the scene. One woman was detained on site and three others were arrested separately.
Authorities condemned the event as terrorism and blamed it on militants from the restive Xinjiang region, where China's mainly Muslim Uighur ethnic minority is concentrated.
Knife and bomb attacks by Uighurs are periodically reported in Xinjiang - usually targeting police or government officials and labelled by authorities as terrorist attacks - but they rarely occur outside the remote region.
Beijing says it faces a violent separatist movement driven by religious extremism, but critics accuse it of exaggerating that threat to justify hard-line measures.
Rights groups accuse the authorities of cultural and religious repression that feeds dissent, while China counters it has invested heavily in economic development in the region, which covers a sixth of the country's territory and is rich in natural resources.
Much of the economic gain has benefited an influx of ethnic majority Han Chinese, and tension between Han and Uighurs boiled over into riots in 2009 that left around 200 people dead.
In October last year China experienced its first high-profile incident outside Xinjiang pinned on residents from the remote region - in Beijing's central Tiananmen Square, the symbolic heart of the Chinese state.
Three family members drove quickly into the popular tourist area and set their car ablaze, killing themselves and two bystanders. Within a day police arrested five suspects, all from Xinjiang.
Information about such events is restricted to reports by authorities and state media, which are often limited in detail and hard to verify independently.