Thousands of villagers surrounded local government offices in the southern province of Guangdong on Wednesday to press their demand for a response from officials over the loss of their farmland, prompting the authorities to send in riot police.
Residents of Liantang village in Guangdong's Shantou city who say their collectively held farmland was sold off in secret without their knowledge, and with no compensation, gathered outside the offices as Wednesday's deadline for a response on the issue arrived.
A Liantang resident surnamed Lin said practically every adult in the 1,500-strong village had swamped the local government building, while local leaders and police had taken refuge on the roof. One resident said the protest was 10,000 strong.
"They told us before that they would respond to us on Nov. 28; that they would give the villagers a response within a month," Lin said.
"But the working group has come up with nothing in the space of a month."
"The district government sent this working group ... to work with the villagers and to make a report, but they are just mouthing empty words," he said.
He said villagers had stopped police trying to detain people who had complained about official corruption surrounding the sell-off of local farmland.
"They burst through the doors of the people who reported the corrupt selling-off of farmland in the middle of the night," Lin said. "They were threatening them... and were going to beat them up, but the villagers pushed through to reckon with them instead."
"The police and the village Party secretary took cover on top of the building, and didn't dare to come down; they are still being held there now," he said.
"Around 10,000 people turned out today," another Liantang resident said. "We went to the village committee to find out what was going on, but all the working party had managed to come up with was the same old answers."
"It's seems that it's just blah-blah."
Lin said local officials had also put pressure on local residents, threatening to beat some of them up.
"Our village committee was saying that the police might come and beat people up, and arrest them," he said. "Some of the villagers went over there to protect the village; I went with them."
Local sources said that more than a dozen buses and police cars, filled with riot police, had been deployed to the scene, placing a security lockdown around Liantang.
Repeated calls to the Liantang village committee offices and neighborhood committee offices went unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
Earlier this month, thousands of villagers submitted a petition to the authorities calling for a probe into what they say is the illegal sale of their land and for the replacement of the village committee.
Villagers presented a banner to the village committee signed by 10,000 local people, calling for an investigation into the sale of local farmland and for the committee members to resign to pave the way for free elections to choose a new panel.
They say the village committee sold off more than 2,000 mu (133 hectares) of farmland to build a distribution and logistics center to serve ports around nearby Shantou city.
The eastern part of Guangdong province is no stranger to fierce disputes over the sale of farmland, as cash-strapped local governments seek to make a killing out of skyrocketing property prices.
In September 2011, the village of Wukan near Shanwei city stunned officials with a highly organized and orderly anti-corruption protest by more than 3,000 villagers wielding colorful banners outside government offices.
However, one year after the rebel succeeded in throwing out its officials, its newly elected committee has been hamstrung in its attempts to return to residents farmland sold to developers by a corrupt village chief.
In particular, the democratically elected former protest leaders have found it hard going to retrieve land from powerful corporations linked to the previous village secretaries of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
In China, all land is ultimately owned by the state, but is allocated to rural communities under collective contract and through the household responsibility system that replaced the state-run farms and communes of the Mao era.
Land acquisition for development, often resulting in lucrative property deals for local officials, sparks thousands of protests by local communities across China every month, many of which escalate into clashes with police.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.