Hundreds of angry residents gathered outside a police station in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou on Friday after police impounded more than 100 electric bicycles in their district, protesters said.
Police in the city's Haizhu district fled after running into an angry crowd during a confiscation campaign aimed at enforcing a ban on the bikes which was first announced in 2007, local people tweeted to Chinese social media services.
Several hundred protesters then surrounded the local police station, calling for their bikes to be returned. Police later allowed people to take their bikes home again, residents said.
"The police have been checking electric bikes today, and a lot of people are unhappy about it," a Haizhu resident surnamed He whose bike was confiscated told RFA. "That's why they surrounded [the police station]."
The authorities had ordered the confiscations after the lack of parking spaces meant owners began parking the bikes on the street, but He said local people suspected the police had some financial interest the crackdown.
"They just take your bike away and then charge you five yuan a day storage," said He. "They're only doing it to get the money."
He said the confrontation took place in Haizhu's Kangle village, which is home to several thousand people, but spread over a wide area.
"It's a long way to go to the shops to buy groceries," he said. "A lot of villagers have bought electric bikes .... They're great for getting around on, or riding to work."
Police had later caved in and allowed people to collect their bikes, he said.
An employee who answered the phone at a furniture store in the district confirmed accounts of the face-off.
"They started doing checks [for electric bikes] today ... and confiscating people's bikes," the employee said. "If they catch you, they'll take your bike away."
China is the world's largest manufacturer by far of electric bicycles, exporting parts, bikes, and motors worldwide, and millions of Chinese rely on them as a more affordable method of quick transport than a car.
But the near-silent bikes travel at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour) on urban cycleways and have been criticized as a menace to pedestrians.
In March, the Guangdong Bicycle Industry Association filed a petition to the ruling Chinese Communist Party in Beijing about plans to ban the bikes across the whole of Guangdong province.
The letter, signed by 110 companies and 9,000 consumers and enterprise staff members, cited China's Law on Road Traffic Safety, saying existing legislation doesn’t give the government the right to ban them from the streets.
Traffic police say most of the city’s electric bicycles don't measure up to quality and safety standards, however.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.