Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have launched a police operation after officials demolished an encampment made by protesters during a land dispute near Foshan city, protesters said on Monday.
Hundreds of protesters had been camped outside government offices in Foshan's Huangqishaxi village over the weekend in protest at alleged official corruption over the sale of local farmland by village officials.
Protesters used chairs to block the exit of police vehicles during clashes on Friday after their shelters and belongings were smashed up in an apparent bid by a local official to clear the area, they said.
"I saw that guy He Youhong come over," an eyewitness who declined to be named told RFA. "He is a corrupt official, and he'd had a bit to drink."
"A lot of the people protecting their rights had put up banners, and there was an old lady sitting there," she said. "He came charging over and started attacking the old lady."
"Then he smashed up the gazebo that the old lady had paid for herself, and her stool she'd been sitting on, and ripped down all of the banners," she said. "The villagers were pretty angry before, but this has made them even more angry."
Video of the ensuing clashes showed police in riot helmets shoving people into vans, amid angry shouting and car horns.
Hundreds of middle-aged and elderly protesters, many of them women, were gathered around an official building with stools, shouting angrily at the authorities, amid the wreckage of a blue canvas gazebo, the footage showed.
'They didn't do anything'
The eyewitness said the protesters had called the police, but that police hadn't taken their side in the dispute.
"They should at least compensate someone if they smash up their stuff, right?" she said. "But they didn't do anything. A lot of local people were yelling at them, and were blocking off the police vehicles with their chair."
"They said they wouldn't let them leave if they didn't deal with it, so the police called out a bunch of riot police, and they detained one person."
An employee who answered the phone at the Huangqishaxi village government offices on Monday declined to comment.
"I don't know exactly what went on, so how can I tell you about it?" the official said. "First, I don't know, and I could put you on the wrong track if I told you the wrong thing."
"Second, we have departments whose job it is to deal with the outside world, with queries from journalists such as yourself, so you'll have to ask them."
Lease sold early
A second local resident said the dispute had flared when a local official had sold off the lease to a piece of land that had been leased to the local community before the lease had expired.
"When we asked the lawyers, they said it had been sold, and then we asked the government, and they said it had been sold, too," the local resident said. "We have been demanding daily that they publish the account books, but they won't do that."
"Then there is the matter of the 50 million yuan deposit paid by the developer, which they spent, which made people very angry. They are out of order, but they just said 'so sue me, we've got plenty of higher ups backing us.'"
Land acquisition for development, often resulting in lucrative property deals for local officials, sparks thousands of protests by local communities across China every year, many of which escalate into clashes with police.
But the authorities are quick to suppress news and social reports of such clashes, and anyone who posts details of such "mass incidents" risks detention for spreading rumors.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.