Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong detained a large number of people Tuesday, pre-empting their plans to march to provincial government offices to call for the cancellation of a controversial waste incinerator in their area.
The residents of Shiling township in Guangdong capital Guangzhou's outlying Huadu district had planned to stage a mass march to the government offices on Tuesday to register their opposition to the waste project, four days after a 30,000-strong protest led to bloody clashes with the police.
The number of those held was not immediately available but many campaigners posted tweets saying that police were out in force along highways leading to Guangzhou, detaining those coming from Huadu and blocking them from holding the demonstration.
Police were checking the identification of passengers on public transport links to the downtown area, they said.
"We are in the police station right now, signing our names," said one protester surnamed Chen, who said he was detained while en route from Huadu, which lies 34 kilometers (21 miles) to the northeast of Guangzhou.
"We have to register our addresses, and tell them where we're going, and give our ID card numbers," he said.
Chen said he had been held in the police station for more than two hours.
'Anyone from Huadu' checked
"When we were on our way here, two police officers asked for our ID cards, then they told us 'go over there,' without saying much else," he said.
"When we asked why, he said that anyone from Huadu had to go over there, and that's the way it was."
He said he had begun the trip to Guangzhou with a group of 32 fellow protesters.
"They took us to the Yuexiu Stadium, where we had to sign our names.... Then they told us to get on a bus, and they are holding us in a police station in Huadu, near the government buildings," Chen said, adding that many other protesters had also been detained there in addition to his group.
"We were escorted by riot police the whole time, four of them."
An official who answered the phone at the Huadu district police department said protesters were only likely to be detained if they had breached public order.
"I don't know if they were detained while protesting," he said. "But it is likely that they were detained for disturbing public order."
"But those who haven't broken the law shouldn't be detained."
A second Huadu resident surnamed Wang said the protesters had only taken to the streets in the absence of any official response to their formal petitions.
"If that had worked, we wouldn't be doing this," Wang said. "They are afraid we will go to Guangzhou, and they are trying to save their own face."
"I no longer have any trust in the government, if I'm honest," he said.
Friday's protest was the second mass demonstration against the plant in a week.
Government ties to companies likely to build and operate the plant have been prompting popular resistance to waste incinerators across Guangdong, including in Panyu city, Huadu, Conghua and Zengcheng, since 2009.
A protester surnamed Lin who witnessed Friday's clashes said some police were injured and some protesters detained.
"Some police were hurt, and the plainclothes police were there taking photos and video," Lin said. "Then they came into the village and started arresting people."
"They arrested four in Qianjin village and one in Yishan village, and released one the same evening."
He said the authorities had denied rumors that some protesters had died in the clashes.
"But a lot of villagers were injured in the clashes," he said. "They were hurt by the police, who were using their shields and batons."
He said the township government had sent out mass SMS messages on Friday.
"They say that the location of the plant won't be in Shiling township, and told us not to act impulsively," Lin said.
But he added: "We're not afraid. We are psychologically prepared."
An official who answered the phone at the Shiling township propaganda department on Friday said those who had been "spreading rumors" had already been detained. But he was unable to confirm their number.
Asked if the planned incinerator had been canceled, he replied: "It's not being canceled. But we are in the consultation phase from July 22-28, when we are accepting petitions."
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.