Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong imposed a security lockdown on a village near Lianzhou city and detained dozens of local people, many of them elderly, following clashes triggered by a protest over the loss of farmland and a lucrative tourist attraction to municipal control, residents said on Wednesday.
Around 40 people had already been taken away by police in door-to-door raids on homes, while others were in hospital with injuries following clashes between riot police and villagers over the long-standing dispute, residents said on Wednesday.
"They were arresting people all over without a search warrant," said one resident of Dadong village identified by his surname, Fan. "They kicked their doors down with no reason whatsoever."
"They went into the alleyways and took children; the youngest was six or seven years old," he said. "They even took my old dad away."
Villagers estimate that around 40-50 people are now in police custody.
"This morning, they were going round beating up anyone they saw, and a lot of people are now in hospital," Fan said.
Further protests planned
He said most Dadong residents were staying home, afraid to go out amid a strong police presence on the streets of the village.
Police had already ripped down banners protesting the land grab, but no officials had come to hold talks with local residents.
He said many people don't understand their rights under Chinese law. "If the police say they are detained, they'll just get into the police car."
But he said villagers have planned further protests, this time about the mass detentions.
"If they don't release everyone today, then we'll protest tomorrow, and every day after that," Fan said.
A second villager, also surnamed Fan, said villagers are demanding the return of the land giving access to the Lianzhou Underground River, a well-known tourist attraction leading through spectacular limestone caves.
"It's hard to tell how things will turn out," she said. "We in Dadong village haven't received a penny in compensation so far."
Calls to the Lianzhou municipal government, which oversees Dadong, went unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
An officer who answered the phone at the police station in nearby Dongpi township denied the detentions had taken place.
"No, they didn't," the officer said. But asked if his police station had been involved in the incident, he added: "I'm not sure about this matter."
The head of the Dadong police station said media interviews could only be arranged via the publication information office.
"I don't care who you are; I'm not talking to you on the phone," he said.
Government takes land
The majority of the land around Dadong was leased to the villagers under the responsibility system brought in by late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping.
However, the Lianzhou city government wrested control of a local tourist attraction, limestone caves and an underground river with spectacular stalagmites and stalactites, away from the village committee, offering compensation that villagers say was far below the value of the business.
The villagers say their attempts to win back control of the tourist site and adjoining land have taken them to higher levels of government, including the municipal land and resources bureau and tourism bureau, but with no result.
Among those detained was village chief Fan Shuihe, who had been leading the battle to win back the right to operate the underground river and caves.
Fan Shuihe's daughter said police had taken the children straight to school, but that anyone over the age of 18 had been taken away.
"This morning they came at about 11.00 a.m. and they brought lots of vehicles," his daughter said. "They took about as many people as they took yesterday; there were about 100 policemen."
Wang Guozheng, head of legal affairs at the Lianzhou municipal land and resources bureau, said the government had set up a specialist task force to deal with the dispute. "You'll have to go and ask them," he said.
Meanwhile, in Dadong, villagers said the police were still detaining people.
"They're still taking people away," one man said. "They are looking everywhere for people, and we've all locked our doors."
"They are even climbing in through the windows."Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese service and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.