Authorities in the southwestern Chinese region of Guangxi are holding 24 people following clashes earlier this week in which riot police fired pepper spray at protesting sugar cane farmers, local residents told RFA.
The clashes broke out as sugar cane farmers in Guangxi's Wuxuan county took to the streets in protest at new rules from the nearby Laibing city government requiring them to use haulage contractors under its own transportation agency.
More than 400 sugar-cane workers downed tools on Monday, blocking the main intersection of the village with their own sugar-cane trucks in protest at being deprived of income from transporting the cane themselves, a resident surnamed Huo told RFA.
"The authorities sent police to arrest people because the villagers refused to move their trucks," Huo said. "[They arrested] 24 people."
Those detained are accused of "obstructing official duty," a local resident surnamed Chen told RFA. "[During the clashes] they sprayed something like chili pepper water on people's skin, where it burned like hot peppers."
"The local people were unarmed and empty-handed," Chen said.
An officer who answered the phone at Wuxuan county's Lang village police station appeared to confirm the clashes.
"Uhuh, what of it?" the officer said when asked if villagers had blocked the road on Monday. But he declined to comment further.
"I don't know about that ... if you have questions, you need to contact the police department," he said.
An employee who answered the phone at the Wuxuan county government offices on Wednesday also declined to comment.
"I don't know about this; I'm just an office worker," the employee said. "There are so many people protesting and petitioning."
Refusal to cut more sugar cane
According to Huo, the farmers are now refusing to cut any more sugar cane in the middle of the harvest season in protest at the government's decree.
"Before, they would just transport the cane directly to the factory, because they have trucks of their own," Huo said.
"Now they're not allowed to use their own trucks, and they will have to pay out more money if they use [the agency]," he said.
A Wuxuan county resident surnamed Yu said it could cost the farmers around 300 yuan (U.S. $47) per truckload to send their cane to the factory under the new scheme.
"This government is corrupt, that's all there is to it," Yu said.
"They take too much money off us, and now they are cracking down on us as well, and won't let us lodge complaints," he said.
Calls to the Boxuan Sugar Cane Factory rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday, while an employee who picked up the phone at the transportation agency hung up immediately on hearing who was calling.
The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has estimated the number of annual "mass incidents," which include peaceful protests, strikes marches and riots and violent clashes, to exceed 90,000 in any given year in China.
Since coming to power in late 2012, President Xi Jinping has carried on a nationwide graft crackdown targeting high-ranking "tigers" and low-ranking "flies."
But critics say the campaign is used as part of a political power struggle within the ranks of the ruling Chinese Communist Party and has little interest in uprooting endemic corruption in local governments.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service and Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.