Police in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong opened fire on protesting taxi drivers after thousands of them took to the streets in protest over unlicensed cabs in Linyi city, protesters told RFA on Friday.
"She had gunshot wounds in both legs, one of which was very serious," the sister of one taxi driver hit by police gunfire told RFA from the hospital.
The 43-year-old taxi-driver, surnamed Yang, had turned her head to investigate the source of the gunshots, and looked down to discover blood pouring from her legs, her sister said.
"There was a big hole in her leg; she was injured in three different places," Yang's sister said. "The bullets ripped through her blood vessels and tendons, and some stayed embedded there."
The shots rang out as armed riot police faced off with some 3,000 angry taxi drivers on Tuesday in a protest against unlicensed cabs booked with WeChat's Didi app stealing their business, which had lasted for several days in downtown Linyi, protesters said.
"My sister was in front of a line of police arranged into three ranks, with the ones in front holding up shields and the ones behind holding guns ... she was hit in the calf. The police were behind her," Yang's sister said.
Unconfirmed reports said the police had explained the gunshots as a "misfire."
"If they didn't take guns to the scene, then they couldn't misfire, could they," taxi driver Lu Qiumei told RFA. "Personally, I don't believe this weapon was accidentally discharged."
A fellow taxi driver surnamed Liang said the protesters had already gathered several times outside the Linyi municipal government buildings in protest at their loss of business.
"We didn't do anything to escalate the situation," Liang said. "We weren't carrying any weapons, but the police fired on us using anti-terrorism guns with lead bullets, not plastic bullets."
"Later, the city authorities told us that this was because we had engaged in extreme activities by demonstrating for such a long time," he said.
Taxi drivers have been protesting outside the headquarters of app company Didi Kuaiche and the municipal government in Linyi since Dec. 8, complaining of massive falls in income since the advent of car-hailing apps.
Protesters said the strike had continued into Friday.
"It's because of the Kuaidi and the Didi Jiaoche apps; there are still drivers, maybe several hundred people on the city square today," a protester who asked to remain anonymous said.
While Liang estimated that his business takings have dropped by around 60 percent, another taxi driver said his family is now looking hardship straight in the face.
"It's getting to the point where we can't afford to eat," the driver said. "I used to make more than 250 yuan a day in profit."
Repeated calls to the Linyi municipal government offices and to the state-run taxi management company rang unanswered during office hours on Friday.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party is in the process of drafting new rules that would impose similar licensing restrictions on drivers using Uber-like car-hailing apps in China, which are already regulated by city authorities in Shanghai.
One of the car-hailing apps, Didi Kuaidi, currently has 250 million registered users and covers 259 Chinese cities, with a market share of 83.2 percent, while Uber has a market share of just 16.2 percent, official media reported recently.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.