Thousands of ordinary Chinese with complaints against the government have converged on the capital ahead of a key political anniversary, as police stepped up operations to detain them.
"There are more and more petitioners now," said a petitioner from neighboring Hebei surnamed Cai. "The police are driving them away [in relays.] There were several busloads taken away [on Tuesday evening]," he said on Wednesday.
Security is tight in the capital as Beijing gears up to mark the 62nd anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on Saturday, with police swooping down on people from out of town, especially around the southern railway station, where China's army of petitioners tend to congregate.
"They take some away, but then more keep arriving," Cai said.
He said a large crowd had also gathered outside the central government complaints office in Beijing.
"There were so many people—there must have been tens of thousands," he said.
A second petitioner from Hebei surnamed Wang said she had escaped her hometown ahead of a huge local clampdown, with police keeping petitioners under house arrest to prevent them from traveling to Beijing.
She said she had tried to visit the central complaints office too, but was denied access.
"They won't let anyone into the national complaints office now," Wang said. "They have row after row of crowd barriers, so you can't get anywhere [near it]."
"I didn't dare even to go there today," she said on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the organizers of an online campaign to pose for mass photographs outside the complaints divisions of key government departments in Beijing said more than 10,000 people had registered an interest in the protest.
It was unclear how many of those gathered in Beijing had gone there with this intent, though.
Anhui-based petitioner Wang Fengyun said at least 30 petitioners had arrived in Beijing from her home province in the past two days.
"We are at the Beijing southern railway station," Wang said on Wednesday. "The petitioners are beginning to come in on train No. 665 ... We are all hiding."
Wang said the petitioners were hiding from representatives of their home provinces, who maintain offices in Beijing in order to detain and escort home anyone trying to lodge a complaint about local governments with central government.
"If you don't do what they say and go back with these representatives, then they beat you," Wang said.
A petitioner from Shanxi also surnamed Wang said more than 100 police and private security personnel had descended on the area around the railway station around noon on Wednesday, and had started to detain petitioners.
He said he had witnessed police beating some petitioners before hauling them onto two specially commissioned buses.
Among those beaten and detained was Hunan petitioner Huang Guangyu, according to Yunnan petitioner Li Zhongying.
"They were from out of town," Li said of the police. "[Tuesday] evening around 10 police officers in uniform and some plainclothes police [came]."
She said Huang, who had been staying with her, had called her Wednesday morning to say he was in the Hunan representative office.
Police also detained nine AIDS patients from impoverished rural Henan province, who had tried to visit central government offices in Tiananmen Square several times this week.
Henan-based activist Liang Guoqiang said his wife and another AIDS patient were among those detained.
"They are being held by them," Liang said. "It usually lasts three or four days, then they won't care."
He said the group had tried to call attention to their petition for compensation, saying they were infected with HIV following tainted blood transfusions in local hospitals and clinics.
"People here ... push us from one to another [department]," Liang said. "There were even some people from local government who came here, but they don't do anything to resolve it."
China's ministry of public security on Wednesday urged police to step up patrols and surveillance ahead of the seven-day National Day holiday.
"The ministry has instructed police nationwide to intensify patrols on rented houses, hotels, entertainment centers, and other crowded places," the official Xinhua news agency reported.
The number of ordinary Chinese traveling to Beijing to pursue grievances against the government typically swells ahead of key political dates, as petitioners hope their cases will get a more sympathetic hearing.
Instead, many say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in “black jails,” beaten, and harassed by the authorities if they try to petition a higher level of government.
Reported by Fang Yuan for RFA's Mandarin service, and by Hai Nan for the Cantonese service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.