Tensions remained high amid tight security on the streets of China's rebel village of Wukan in southern Guangdong province on Wednesday, following street battles between local residents and riot police who fired rubber bullets and tear gas in a bid to end weeks of peaceful protests.
Dozens of people have been beaten or injured by rubber bullets and detained, including three villagers accused of encouraging foreign journalists to cover the protests and subsequent crackdown and an elderly disabled woman, local residents said.
Riot police were maintaining a security cordon around the village, which has been embroiled in a bitter land dispute since the removal of its former leader Xue Chang for corruption following a lengthy protest campaign in 2011.
While fresh elections brought former protesters into the Wukan village committee in 2012, three of its leaders have since been jailed on "corruption" charges that local residents say are trumped up by local officials as a form of retaliation.
"Some young people have been detained by police for talking to the media, including the foreign media," a Wukan resident who declined to be named told RFA. "They chased them and detained them here in the village ... around 2.00 p.m."
Police have now set up checkpoints on all routes coming into Wukan, the resident said.
"Anyone passing through any of these intersections gets their documents checked, and the smaller roads and pathways are blocked entirely," he said.
"The police are now in the alleyways, calling at villagers' houses, looking for five people they have arrest warrants for, and there are still five or six police vehicles patrolling around," he said.
He said none of the dozens detained in yesterday's raids has yet been released.
"They were even detaining people who took photos on their phone," the resident said. "How are the villagers to live? There's no difference between the government and armed robbers."
'No one is open'
An employee who answered the phone at a restaurant in Wukan said the mood in the once-feisty village is very low.
"We're not open for business today, because nobody is open," the employee said. "Things have been very tense here for the past couple of days."
"It's very quiet and [nobody's about]. We haven't been out this whole time," the employee said.
Calls to the the police department and government offices in nearby Lufeng city, which administers Wukan, rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday, as did calls to the Lufeng People's Hospital, which is treating many of the injured.
Video footage of Tuesday's clashes showed people bleeding from flesh wounds from rubber bullets, ranks of police in riot gear marching through streets, and clouds of white tear gas billowing above the buildings.
Rocks and bricks lay littered on the streets after being used by villagers to fling at rows of riot police behind close-packed shields.
In Hong Kong, which shares Guangdong's cultural heritage and is the only Chinese city where Wukan's struggles have been fully reported, dozens of protesters marched to Beijing's representative office in the former British colony in protest at the crackdown on weeks of peaceful protests.
The group of veteran pro-democracy activists unfurled a banner outside the Chinese government's Central Liaison Office calling for the release of former Wukan village chief Lin Zuluan, who was jailed for three years on "bribery" charges by a court in Foshan last week.
Chanting "Release Lin Zuluan and the other Wukan villagers!" and "Standing up for your rights isn't a crime!" they fixed boxes looking like mooncakes, a traditional snack eaten at Mid-Autumn Festival, to the fence.
Some of the boxes carried slogans calling for a democratic China, while others read, in ornamental characters: "Support the fight for rights!"
Police tactics condemned
Richard Choi, deputy chairman of the Alliance in Support of the Patriotic Democratic Movement in China, condemned the use of rubber bullets in Tuesday's clashes.
"We strongly condemn the use of rubber bullets and tear gas by police, and their use of force to enter the village and detain residents," Choi said.
"We call on the international community to pay attention to the situation, so as to prevent further abuse of power and oppression by the Chinese government," he said.
"China isn't moving towards democracy. Even this example of grassroots democracy only lasted a short time, and the human rights situation has continued to worsen in the past few years, since [President] Xi Jinping came to power," Choi said.
Meanwhile, pro-democracy activist and lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung warned of parallels between events in Wukan and a recent campaign against a land deal in Hong Kong's Yuen Long district.
"To start with in Wukan, the [ruling Chinese] Communist Party village secretary used criminal gangs to beat up the villagers, and the villagers resisted, and new elections were called."
"In mainland China, it was in Wukan. In Hong Kong, it was Yuen Long," Leung said. "Yuen Long is the flip side of Wukan."
Recent elections to Hong Kong's Legislative Council were marred by threats against key candidates, including green activist Eddie Chu, who received multiple death threats in spite of winning a seat from the Yuen Long electoral district with a record number of votes in Sept. 4's poll.
Last week, the Foshan Intermediate People's Court sentenced Lin Zuluan to a jail term of three years and one month on "bribery" charges.
Lin was denied permission to see lawyers hired by his family, while many believe that his televised "confession" to the charges was made under duress.
His detention earlier this year sparked more than 80 days of protests by Wukan residents calling for his release.
While a small proportion of Wukan's lost farmland has been returned, local officials say the villagers must gather evidence to prove their ownership before any more can be handed over.
Reported by Wong Lok-to and Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.