Nine people were injured in clashes between the Muslim Hui ethnic group and security personnel in China's western region of Ningxia after authorities moved in to demolish thousands of the community's tombs, local residents said on Friday.
Residents of Yueyahu village near Ningxia's Yinchuan city said the clashes took place after dozens of police arrived in the village on Thursday morning and began demolishing local graves to clear land for a new airport.
Local people said the move came before an agreement had been reached with local officials over compensation for lost land and relocation of ancestral remains.
A doctor who answered the phone at the Yueyahu medical clinic on Friday confirmed the clashes had taken place.
"They want to build an airport near here, so they need to redevelop the land, and they want to clear away the tombs, which are all on the hillside," the doctor said.
"The local people refused to allow the tombs to be relocated, saying that the compensation was too low," he said.
"Then, when the government wanted to get started on the clearance of the grave sites, they wouldn't let them."
Nine sent to hospital
The doctor said nine people were injured in the ensuing clashes.
"Eventually we sent [the injured] to the municipal hospital for treatment," the doctor said.
"There were nine in total, one of whom was an urban management official," he said, in reference to the notorious "chengguan" officers whose violent enforcement of local planning decisions and zoning laws has prompted widespread public outrage in China.
"We checked them all over; their condition wasn't too bad ... but the government told us to treat them as urgent cases," the doctor said.
Asked if the injuries were the result of clashes between local residents and chengguan, the doctor said: "Uh-huh."
"There were police and chengguan there, [a few dozen]," he said.
Photos of the stand-off posted on social media sites showed riot police in helmets and holding shields and batons standing in a cemetery, while local residents wearing Muslim headgear faced off with them.
Some photos showed local residents lying on the ground, while others sat on the ground weeping.
Calls to the Yueyahu village government offices rang unanswered during office hours on Friday.
An officer who answered the phone at the village police station didn't deny the incident had taken place.
"This thing you are asking about, you'll have to ask the leaders about it," the police officer said. "I am just the duty officer."
Asked if any local people had been detained, the officer said: "I hadn't heard that. I have only just arrived at work."
Yueyahu lies amid a poverty-stricken region on the loess plateau in the upper reaches of the Yellow River, and much of the land in the area is desert, residents say.
The land currently occupied by an estimated 5,500 ancestral tombs is slated for redevelopment as an ecological leisure park by the Nanshi Binggou Tourism Co., villagers told RFA.
The Hui are culturally more similar to mainstream Han Chinese than Xinjiang's Turkic-speaking Uyghur people, but retain some Islamic customs like avoiding pork and circumcising male children.
Ethnic tensions have nonetheless flared in recent years, notably in riots following a 2004 car accident involving a Han Chinese and a Hui Muslim in the central province of Henan.
In June 2012, authorities in the northwestern Chinese region of Ningxia handed jail terms of up to six years to 14 ethnic minority Hui Muslims for "inciting violence" and "obstructing public duty," following clashes over the destruction of a mosque at the end of 2011.
Police in Tongxin county near Ningxia's Wuzhong city detained around 40 Muslim Hui people following riots sparked by the forced demolition of a local mosque by the authorities.
Four were later released, and 36 stood trial on April 24.
China's atheist ruling Chinese Communist Party maintains a tight grip on religious activities, in spite of promising freedom of religion via the Constitution, allowing only officially recognized religious institutions to operate.
Clashes between rural communities and police are becoming more and more widespread as local residents increasingly challenge lucrative property deals involving collectively owned land by local officials.
In a separate incident near Yinchuan on Thursday, local residents clashed with police amid a protest at delays over residential buildings that have been paid for but not completed, they told RFA.
"They detained some of our people, and I am down at the police station to bail them out," a local resident surnamed Ma told RFA. "They detained six or seven people, I think."
The apartment blocks in question were first advertised in 2010 by the Ningxia Tumu Jiye Property Development Co, which sold them at well below market prices to some 200 employees and their relatives, who paid deposits of up to half a million yuan (U.S.$80,000).
The company's bosses absconded with the funds in 2012, and repeated attempts to seek redress with the local government had yielded no result, residents said.
A homeowner surnamed Li said there were now no options left for those who had bought the apartments.
"They are treating us like criminals," Li told RFA. "We are asking for housing. Does that break the law?"
"They asked me who organized us [to protest]," she said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Lin Jing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.