Authorities in the northern Chinese city of Tianjin have forcibly demolished a number of buildings in a village populated by minority Hui Muslims, amid a vocal protest campaign over alleged corruption surrounding years of property deals by ruling Chinese Communist Party officials in their neighborhood.
Demolition gangs moved into Tianmu village, a community of around 20,000 Hui Muslims on Wednesday, knocking down a local market, while local police ripped down protest banners from the area, eyewitnesses told RFA.
"They have been forcibly knocking things down [since yesterday]," a Tianmu resident surnamed Zhao said. "There are 200, 300 urban management officials who have come to aid the forced demolitions and to suppress [protests]."
"A lot of buildings along the main street and the market have been demolished now, and we have no way of resisting them," she said. "There are too many of them."
A second local resident who gave only the surname Bi said clashes had broken out between local residents and the urban management police, or chengguan.
"There was some fighting, I'll tell you," Bi said. "The government couldn't finish pulling down the market in a single day, but it will be razed to the ground by tomorrow."
A Tianmu resident surnamed Cheng said the authorities had claimed that the undercover market building was an illegal structure.
"This was a mornings-only market, not a permanent market, and it had been operating for about seven or eight years," Cheng said. "The government didn't pay much attention before, but now they are hosting the National Games [here in Tianjin]."
"Preparatory work is under way, and so the government came and knocked down the market."
Residents of Tianmu have been petitioning for years over allegations of corruption on the village committee.
The protests center around a campaign by local people for the recall of Communist Party village secretary Mu Xiangyou amid allegations of graft linked to land disputes that have dragged on for more than 30 years.
Local residents have detailed a litany of violent, forced evictions and demolitions of their homes, opaque accounting practices, and the loss of huge tracts of collectively owned village land.
But while Mu Xiangyou has taken a back seat in village politics, he remains a delegate to China's parliament, the National People's Congress.
Tianmu is one of China's most prominent Muslim communities, and its residents say they have suffered enough amid a massive urban real estate boom in recent decades.
But the village has seen no elections that might give residents a chance of removing officials they don't support.
Residents had hoped to bring Mu Xiangyou to justice on the back of a nationwide anti-corruption campaign launched by President Xi Jinping after taking power in November 2012, but to no avail.
Tianmu residents have filed petitions to central government in Beijing over the loss of some 3,000 mu (494 acres) of farmland to Mu Xiangyou's property deals, leaving them with just 100 mu (16 acres).
Some 7,000-8,000 mu (1153-1318 acres) of land zoned for residential use has also passed out of local residents' hands, they said.
Tianmu campaigners estimate that Mu has made four billion yuan (U.S. $581.2 million) personally out of land and property sales to developers over the past three decades.
The requisitioning of land and forced evictions linked to lucrative property deals by cash-strapped local governments trigger thousands of mass protests and petitions across China every year. Many result in violent suppression and the detention of the main organizers.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.