This could get interesting.... =========================== BEIJING (Reuters) - Thousands of Chinese rioted in a dispute sparked by a lopsided roadside brawl, set fire to cars and wounded six police officers in an outburst likely to worry communist leaders in Beijing desperate to cling on to power. The official Xinhua news agency, in a rare report on a local disturbance, blamed Sunday's riot in Chizhou in dirt-poor eastern Anhui province on a few criminals who led the "unwitting masses" astray. The violence was the latest in a series of protests which the Communist Party, in power since 1949, fears could spin out of control and become a channel for anger over corruption and a growing gap between rich and poor. It started before 3 p.m. when a Toyota sedan grazed a middle school student crossing the street and the teen and the driver quarreled. A few men emerged from the car and set on the student, a local store manager surnamed Wu who saw the clash told Reuters by telephone. The men were taken to a police station and a crowd that had been watching the fight swarmed around the building, Wu said, demanding that the men be handed over to them as their numbers swelled by the minute. Some among the growing mob focused their anger on the men's Toyota, smashing it, flipping it over and torching it, Wu said. "The fire fighters drove up, but when they saw what was going on, they fled," the store manager said. Armed police tried to quell the disturbance but were driven back by a hail of rocks and lit firecrackers, he said. The local Chizhou Daily newspaper reported six policemen were injured by stones, news Web site www.sina.com.cn said. "The crowd also attacked reporters, one of whom was burned by a firecracker, and they grabbed cameras out of the hands of anyone taking pictures," Wu said. Around 7.30 p.m., power to the police station was cut and "criminals" started throwing fireworks inside, the Chizhou Daily report said. The crowd, now numbering as many as 10,000, also flipped three parked police cars and set them ablaze. The mob crashed through the windows of Wu's store, located just down the street from the police station, and began grabbing anything they could get their hands on. "We called the police immediately, but none came. Four hours later, the provincial police chief arrived with a large group of police, but by that time, my store was already stripped bare," Wu said. "It was raining hard that day. Otherwise, more stores might have been looted." Hundreds of armed police in full riot gear managed to restore order in Chizhou around midnight on Sunday. The men from the Toyota were being held in detention and police had apprehended 10 "criminals" suspected of involvement in the riot, Xinhua said, adding an investigation of the incident was under way. The riot closely echoed one that erupted in Chongqing in western China last October when a quarrel between residents, in which one man passed himself off as an official, enraged bystanders with the attempted abuse of privilege. Thousands took to the streets, burning police cars and looting government buildings. Protests have become increasingly common in China, fueled by corruption and the widening wealth gap, but authorities are keen to quickly quash dissent and preserve stability. There were more than 58,000 protests, many of them over land rights disputes, across the country in 2003, a Communist Party-backed magazine, Outlook, has reported. This month, villagers in northern Hebei province protesting to keep their land were attacked by a group of armed hired toughs. Six farmers were killed and 48 injured in the ensuing battle.