Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong detained at least 10 people on Thursday after protests over an urban redevelopment project turned into clashes that left dozens injured, local residents told RFA.
Around 120 residents of Shapu residential compound in the Bao'an district of Guangdong's Shenzhen city came out in protest on Wednesday, gathering under banners opposing the deal.
Photos showed police in helmets with riot shields scuffling with local people, and an elderly woman on the ground, covered in a blanket.
Local authorities responded by sending in police clad in full riot gear, who clashed with the protesters and tore down banners hung at the entrance to one residential compound, a local resident surnamed Cai said.
"Our village party secretary is using this opportunity to attack local people," Cai said. "We had a banner hanging in our garden, which was a private residential area that nobody else came to."
"Secretary Zheng of the Songgang district government sent more than 80 riot police, just to tear down our banner? Surely that wasn't necessary," she said.
Cai said police had marched through crowds of people trying to prevent the removal of the banner.
"They shouted out 1, 2, 3, and marched in one step at a time, with no regard for whether the people in front of them lived or died," she said. "A lot of elderly people were trampled underfoot on the ground."
Pressure on villagers
She said opposition to the land sales had been widespread at first, but then local officials had sent teams knocking on the doors of people's homes and putting pressure on them to sign the agreement.
"We said we wanted to see the sale contract and the accounts, but they wouldn't let us," Cai said.
An officer who answered the phone at the Songgang district police department confirmed the incident had taken place, but declined to comment further.
"I think [the arrests] had to do with obstructing officials in the course of their duty," the officer said.
"But you'll have to ask the Bao'an district propaganda department about this, because I don't really know the details."
However, the Shenzhen municipal government said on its official microblog account on Thursday that "some local residents violently resisted attempts by the neighborhood committee's security team to the removal of the banner."
The clashes are part of an ongoing dispute over the demolition of buildings in the area to make way for an art exhibition center, the statement said.
Local people were suspicious because share-dealings surrounding the development hadn't been approved by local residents, it said.
Color revolution fears?
China once compiled official statistics detailing hundreds of thousands of "mass incidents" annually, but recently such clashes have remained secret, going largely unreported in state-run media.
At the end of last year, the ministry of public security released an online video warning people to "guard against color revolutions" and warning that "hostile overseas forces" could use such conflicts to try to launch them in China.
"The 'color revolution' has been to Syria and many other countries, where it has engendered war and division, and many people have lost their homes and become refugees," the video said.
"Now, the talons of the demon are extending as far as China," it said, accusing rights activists and human rights lawyers of "hyping up" similar events and acting as the represtentives of foreign forces in China.
U.S.-based China scholar and former journal editor Li Hongkuan said Beijing's approach to conflict is similar to the political atmosphere under late supreme leader Mao Zedong.
"This is still Mao-era thinking ... to turn any problem you can't solve into 'class struggle'," he said. "Now they don't talk so much about class struggle; nowadays, it's all about nationalism, and [accusing foreigners of] inciting color revolutions."
"It's all the same sort of idea, their fundamental mode of being."
Last November, the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) handed its Press Freedom award to detained citizen journalists Lu Yuyu and Li Tingyu, who compiled an online database of "mass incidents" in China.
Lu and Li won the award in the "citizen journalism" category, for having documented strikes and demonstrations by citizens across China at considerable personal risk, the group said.
Reported by Lee Lai for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Lin Ping for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.