Authorities in the Chinese capital on Monday detained more than 1,000 veterans of the People's Liberation Army (PLA) who gathered outside government buildings in protest over lack of income, protesters said.
"There were 20 buses that took us to the Tongzhou district of Beijing, to the side of a road in the countryside," PLA veteran and long-time petitioner Yang Suiquan told RFA from one of the buses.
"The buses have all stopped here, and we are still sitting on the bus."
Yang said the buses, each of which had a police escort aboard, appeared to have stopped outside a former army barracks.
"It's the police who are bringing us out here," Yang said. "There were 20 buses with several dozen people on each one, so there are more than 1,000 people here, at the very least."
Yang said the veterans had arrived in Beijing on June 23, in the hope of lodging a formal complaint, and had been promised a reply within a 60-day time limit.
"But there has been no reply to date, and nobody was doing anything about it, so we went back there again," he said.
China's tightly controlled state media ran a few positive features on PLA veterans to coincide with the massive PLA military parade on Sept. 3 marking the 70th anniversary of the defeat of Japan at the end of World War II, Yang said.
But the reports had neglected to mention that many veterans of China's brief 1979 border war with Vietnam and the Korean War (1950-1953), live in extreme hardship in old age, he said.
"We gave our best, but when we got back, they didn't do anything to help us earn a living, find work, get medical care or social security payments," Yang said. "The local governments say they can't do anything, but maybe they just don't want to."
"We have been forced into petitioning, into pressing our demands," he said.
Sichuan-based rights activist Huang Qi, founder of the Tianwang rights website, said the authorities are increasingly cracking down on PLA veterans, regarded as a highly politically-sensitive section of the population, who routinely complain about their treatment by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
"There are a lot of veterans who have fought in wars that have been put in jail by the authorities," Huang said. "The government's way of dealing with this issue is pretty defective."
"I think the authorities should find a way to ensure their standard of living ... or else it's going to have a big impact on applications to join the Chinese armed forces in the present," he said.
The mass detentions came just days after a petitioner from Shanghai died after ingesting pesticide on Tiananmen Square in protest over years of failed petitioning attempts.
Petitioner Yang Chuancong died on Saturday, two days after drinking pesticide on Tiananmen Square, fellow petitioners told RFA.
"He died on the 19th, after drinking pesticide—that's correct," said a fellow petitioner, who declined to be named. "The government has put his family under lockdown so the news won't get out, and they are telling the family not to tell the truth about it—to say that he is still being treated and that he didn't die."
A second unnamed source said Yang Chuancong had long pursued a complaint about his family's eviction at the hands of a demolition company.
"He complained that the home he was given instead had no property rights, meaning that it was only worth 500,000 yuan (U.S. $78,500) on the property market," the source said. "He wanted them to exchange it for an apartment with property rights, but they refused."
An official who answered the phone in government offices in Yang Chuancong's home district of Zhapei declined to comment, however, saying inquiries should be directed to the government complaints office.
However, an employee who answered the phone at the complaints office on Monday said all the officials had already left, while calls to the Tianmu West Street neighborhood committee office rang unanswered.
The reports of Yang Chuancong's death come after police in Beijing took away a man who drank pesticide in an apparent suicide bid outside the headquarters of the ruling Chinese Communist Party government on Thursday.
Yang Shihe, a petitioner from the northeastern city of Harbin, collapsed on the pavement near the guard-post outside government headquarters in Beijing's Zhongnanhai palace compound after swallowing pesticide, with white foam coming from his mouth, the Hubei-based Civil Rights and Livelihood Watch group reported.
Attempted suicides are growing increasingly common among disgruntled petitioners, many of whom are forced evictees, and most of whom pursue complaints against local officials for years or even decades with no result.
Petitioners, who flood China's official complaints departments with more than 20,000 complaints daily across the country, frequently report being held in "black jails," beaten, or otherwise harassed, if they pursue a complaint beyond its initial rejection at a local level.
Reported by Yang Fan and Gao Shan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.