BISHKEK (AFP/Reuters) - Kyrgyzstans interim government declared a state of emergency and slapped a curfew on southern parts of the country Friday as ethnic clashes left at least 46 people dead and more than 600 wounded. Interim President Roza Otunbayeva, whose government has struggled to assert its rule over the ex-Soviet Central Asian state since taking power amid unrest in April, backed off earlier statements that authorities had regained control. The situation remains tense. Similar conflicts occurred in the month of May. Then we were able to bring the situation under control by imposing a state of emergency, she said in a statement. Now again we are forced to impose a curfew. Otunbayeva warned the situation was likely to deteriorate further throughout the night as government forces attempted to regain control over the southern capital of Osh. A spokeswoman for the Kyrgyz Health Ministry said 646 people had been injured, 419 of whom were in hospital. A Reuters correspondent said an Uzbek neighbourhood, Cheryomushki, was ablaze. She said she had seen clashes between ethnic Kyrgyz and Uzbeks, many people building barricades and a crowd setting fire to two large restaurants and a supermarket. The government, led by Roza Otunbayeva, sent troops and armoured vehicles to quell gangs roaming the streets with sticks, stones and petrol bombs after a night of violence. Regrettably for us, were clearly talking about a stand-off between two ethnicities. We need (to muster) forces and means to stop and calm these people down, and this is what we are doing right now, Otunbayeva told reporters in the capital Bishkek. Otunbayeva said crowds of weird and suspicious-looking people were streaming to Osh from all directions. She did not mention their ethnicity. Political tensions between the agricultural south and the north exist alongside ethnic and clan rivalries. A police officer told Reuters by telephone from a checkpoint outside Osh that some 300 cars had massed at one entrance to the city. Some had come from villages to rescue their relatives living in Osh, but there were also some 2,000 mainly Kyrgyz men with sticks and hunting rifles, he said. The European Union called on Otunbayevas government to restore public order with lawful means, its high representative for foreign affairs, Catherine Ashton, said in a statement. The violence occurred in the southern power base of former President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, deposed in April by a popular revolt. Bakiyevs supporters briefly seized government buildings in the south on May 13, defying central authorities in Bishkek. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev told a regional security summit in the Uzbek capital Tashkent that Moscow wanted a swift end to the unrest. Chinese leader Hu Jintao echoed him, saying, China continues to help Kyrgyzstan as much as it can. Many of those killed and injured suffered gunshot wounds. Officials said the riots were sparked by a fight, possibly in a casino, which rapidly escalated into ethnic clashes. Ismail Isakov, defense minister in the interim government and a recently appointed special representative for southern Kyrgyzstan, and Interior Minister Bolot Sherniyazov flew to Osh, a city of over 200,000 people in the volatile Fergana valley. Kyrgyzstan has sent reinforcements to tighten control of its border with Uzbekistan, Salkyn Abdykariyeva, spokeswoman for the border police, said by telephone from Osh.