Urban management officials have beaten two handicapped street musicians in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, triggering major clashes between angry locals and police, according to online reports which were denied by the authorities Thursday.
The reported beating of the two buskers in Shenzhen's Bao'an district on Monday came as hundreds of angry residents took to the streets of two other Guangdong cities in protest at separate violent attacks by urban management officials, or chengguan, in the same week, according to local residents and social media reports.
An officer who answered the phone at Shenzhen's Fuyong police station denied online reports that clashes had taken place on his precinct following the alleged beating.
"I don't know about this," the officer said. "We never got any report of this."
"If we had, we would definitely have acted on it. We have patrols as well."
China's chengguan are tasked with ensuring cleanliness and order on city streets, but rights groups and netizens say they are a law unto themselves, often using unnecessary brute force against ordinary citizens.
In Qingyuan city, angry crowds gathered on Wednesday evening after the beating of two brothers who own an underwear shop in Chaoyang Garden on Beimen street by around 20 chengguan officers, microbloggers and local residents said.
An officer who answered the phone at a police station in the city's Qingcheng district on Thursday said they were investigating reports of the attack.
"We are in the process of investigating this case," the officer said. "But we don't know yet who started the fight."
The chengguan beat up the brothers, surnamed Lei, after a dispute about clothing rails left outside their Meili Zhanfang store.
An employee who answered the phone at the nearby Lam's soda store said security guards had been called in to keep order after some of the crowd ran riot.
"I heard someone tried to snatch away some goods downstairs," the employee said. "Security personnel were called in to maintain order."
Sina Weibo user @tongyaonumei wrote: "I heard that more than 20 chengguan beat up the two brothers who own the Meili Zhanfang store because they didn't have time to bring in their racks of clothing."
"One of them had a bone broken in three places; his arm, leg and ribs and has been discharged, and the other is still in hospital receiving treatment," the user wrote.
"It is so inhumane for the chengguan to beat up two creative young men."
An officer who answered the phone at the Songgang police station in Qingyuan city declined to comment, however.
"I don't know about this ... because I wasn't on duty that day," the officer said. "If you want to know any more, you'll have to ask the officers that were on duty."
Photos posted online showed crowds blocking the road near the Lei brothers' store on Wednesday night, facing off with large numbers of riot police.
"In City Square today there are at least 100 riot police and 50 military personnel, as well as 30 chengguan," wrote Sina Weibo user @nanhuahongmao.
"This is pretty terrifying!"
Meanwhile, a local community website titled Xiaoming Xiaohong published a post saying local residents had tried to shoot video of the scene.
"Two women who were shooting video had it deleted by those evil people," the post said. "[Support] Qingyuan!"
Foshan beating incident
The same night, a separate beating incident was reported in Foshan city, some 45 miles from Qingyuan.
A roadside hawker was beaten by chengguan after he spoke rudely to them, according to video of the incident posted online.
The video showed peanuts, soft drinks, and other small items from his bicycle rickshaw scattered on the ground. According to online reports, he sustained injuries to the head and legs.
Last year, a new guide issued to chengguan sparked fears among Chinese netizens that the authorities are now openly supporting the routine use of violence by the officials, who are often demobilized soldiers.
The chengguan were set up in 1997 to enforce non-criminal administrative regulations, including rules governing environmental, sanitation, traffic, and civic pride.
Often paid no basic wage, they rely on income from fines and fees levied from citizens to make a living.
According to a report last year from the New York-based group Human Rights Watch, chengguan routinely abuse their authority in their attempts to keep city streets in order and are often themselves a threat to public safety.
Reported by Xin Lin for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Ho Shan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.