More than 10 people have been hospitalized after a clash between police and residents protesting plans to run high-voltage power transmission cables above their homes in the eastern Chinese city of Wenzhou, activists said Wednesday.
The clashes were sparked late on Tuesday in Longgang township in Wenzhou's Cangnan county after several hundred local people staged protests against the construction of an electricity transforming station near the township, according to online posts.
"They [police] used batons, tear gas, and there was a while I thought they would start firing live ammunition," said one Longgang resident surnamed Feng.
"This was against farmers who had only sticks and stones [to defend themselves]," he said.
"They fired a lot of tear gas," Feng added. "There was a pall of white smoke over the whole place, and people couldn't open their eyes."
Feng said the authorities appeared to have hired unofficial muscle as back-up.
"There were a bunch of random-looking people carrying bludgeons," he said. "They were beating up local people, and a lot of villagers got hurt and had to be taken to hospital."
Feng said "more than 10" people were still in the Longgang Township People's Hospital on Wednesday, recovering from injuries, some of which he said were serious.
He said police had continued their crackdown on protesters with detentions.
"The police came three times in the night and took people away," Feng said.
Feng said local residents were angry at not having been consulted over plans to build the transformer just 300 meters (984 feet) from their homes, and to run high-voltage cables over the area.
"Around 500 people showed up here [on Tuesday] and were going to install the cables whether we liked it or not," he said. "Of course the villagers were going to resist them, because their rights and interests had been violated."
"Most of the people in the village are women, but there were male and female, young and old, even kids, who went [to protest]," he said.
Video footage shot by villagers and posted to the video-sharing site Youku showed white smoke billowing while police in riot gear with shields and batons retreating into vegetable fields as villagers overturned an SUV into an irrigation canal.
Minutes later, villagers rallied against police, hurling stones and lumps of earth from the fields, while crowds thronged the main highway, where police buses clustered.
A second Longgang resident surnamed Zhang said the authorities had sent "several hundred" people, including police, to the site of the planned transforming station on Tuesday afternoon.
"The villagers used weapons like bricks, wooden sticks, stones, beer bottles and knives to try to halt construction," he said. "The police beat us up with their batons, but the local people only had what they could find lying around to fight back with."
"The riot police fired the tear gas...we didn't count how many, but the whole area was wreathed in smoke," he said.
Zhang said police and protesters had both sustained injuries, including the township's political and legal affairs secretary Lu Cunyang, who had been taken to hospital.
He said the construction crew had been forced to abandon their work.
A third resident surnamed Fang also said more than 10 people had been taken to hospital with injuries, and some of them had been taken away from there by police.
"The Longgang police station started detaining people late Tuesday night at the hospital," Fang said. "Five of them were accused of leading the protest and were taken to the police station."
"The authorities have designated this a mass incident and are carrying out an investigation, and some of the villagers will be charged and sentenced," he added.
Taken by force
Fang said the planned transforming station was being built on farmland which had been taken by force from collective ownership by the village, without the consent of the wider community.
He said the villagers would fight the plans "to the bitter end."
"Transforming stations inevitably produce electromagnetic fields, and they can have a big impact on humans, for example, making women more likely to have miscarriages," Fang said.
"They also contribute to an increased risk of cancer, and affect people's throat and respiratory tract," he said.
"All of this makes people very worried."
An official who answered the phone at the Longgang township government offices on Wednesday hung up the phone as soon as the RFA Cantonese service reporter identified themselves.
Repeated calls to the Cangnan county government offices went unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, an officer who answered the phone at the Longgang police station declined to answer questions because he was unable to confirm the identity of a journalist.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin service and by Fung Yat-yiu for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.