Up to 41 people have been killed and at least 624 others wounded in an outbreak of violence in the southern Kyrgyzstan city of Osh.
The unrest forced the government of the Central Asian nation to impose a state of emergency in the region on Friday.
Several buildings across Osh were ablaze, according to witnesses, in the wake of shooting that began on Thursday night.
"Clashes and exchanges of fire between groups of youths took place in Osh and the neighbouring districts of Karassu, Arava and Uzgen," Farid Niyazov, a government spokesman, said.
"A state of emergency has been declared in Osh and these districts from June 11 until June 20."
Witnesses said fighting broke out between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbek groups in Osh, a stronghold of Kurmanbek Bakiyev, who was overthrown by a popular revolt in April.
A health ministry spokeswoman said that different injuries, including bullet wounds, had been reported.
"About a thousand youths armed with batons and stones gathered Thursday evening in the centre of Osh," Azamat Ussmanov, a resident of Osh, said.
"They broke shop windows and the windows of residential buildings, burned cars. Several fires also broke out in the town."Al Jazeera's Robin Forestier-Walker in Osh said that many residents expect worse violence to come.
"The interim government [led by Roza Otunbayeva] said that this was not a planned event, but it is difficult to believe that this was something spontaneous," he said.
"There are rumours that it began as a skirmish between two groups of men at a casino, but what is strange about it is that it suddenly exploded into something different, with hundreds of men burning cars and properties. It has a very inter-ethnic dimension to it.
"We are in an Uzbek neighbourhood of Osh. There are hundreds of men and boys armed with sticks, ready to defend their homes.
"They have been painting SOS signs on their homes in the hope that if the military comes, their houses may be protected. There is no security or police on the ground here."
Kyrgyzstan, which won independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, has been in turmoil since the revolt that toppled Bakiyev.
Political tensions between the agricultural south and the north of Kyrgyzstan exist alongside ethnic and clan rivalries.
Bakiyev's supporters briefly seized government buildings in the south on May 13, defying central authorities in the capital, Bishkek.
Two people were killed and 74 were wounded on May 19 in clashes between Kyrgyz and Uzbeks in the city of Jalalabad. On the same day, Otunbayeva said she would rule the country until 2011, scrapping earlier plans for presidential polls in October.
Jalalabad has also been the scene of fierce clashes between supporters of the interim government and those of Bakiyev, who is in exile in Belarus.
Of Kyrgyzstan's 5.3 million population, ethnic Kyrgyz make up 69.6 per cent, Uzbeks 14.5 per cent and Russians 8.4 per cent.
Source : aljazeera