Chinese authorities responded to calls for more pro-democracy protests for the second Sunday in a row with a strong security presence in major cities.
Reacting to anonymous online appeals for citizens to protest and press the ruling Communist Party for greater openness, hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes policemen turned out in areas designated as protest sites in Beijing and Shanghai.
But like a similar appeal last week, the turnout was small although it was difficult to tell who were simply shoppers and who had shown up to silently support the call to demonstrate.
The calls to emulate the spirit of the “Jasmine Revolution” in Tunisia, which triggered uprisings elsewhere in North Africa and the Middle East, was made on Internet sites banned in China.
Moves to repost the calls on Chinese social networking sites had been blocked by censors.
In Beijing, police closed off both ends of the Wangfujing shopping street and checked those who entered. Water trucks were sent down the street repeatedly to spray the pavement, pushing pedestrians to the side and preventing crowds from gathering.
Men in sanitation uniforms with armbands that said "Public Security Volunteer" used brooms to sweep pedestrians along, Reuters said.
Foreign journalists were followed and those with cameras were blocked from entering the Wangfujing area, a short walk from heavily policed Tiananmen Square, the scene of huge pro-democracy demonstrations in 1989 that were crushed by the army.
An American news videographer was kicked and beaten repeatedly in the face with brooms and taken into police custody, witnesses said. Several other reporters were also detained by police and roughed up.
In Shanghai, police bundled away at least seven men, one of whom had been taking photos. Reuters TV filmed several policemen forcing a man in a brown jacket into a Public Security Bureau van, while other police held up an umbrella to block the view.
AFP reported that some Chinese were seen being taken away in three police vans, but could not confirm their identities or why they were removed.
A U.S. embassy spokesman said he was "disturbed" by reports of foreign journalists being physically harassed.
"We call on the Chinese government to respect the rights of foreign journalists to report in China and urge public security authorities to protect the safety and well-being of anyone who is subject to illegal harassment or intimidation," embassy spokesman Richard Buangan said.
The McDonald's restaurant, designated as a place for the gathering at Wangfujing, was closed for an hour.
Last Sunday, police had stepped up their presence in Beijing and Shanghai and several other cities for the first so-called "Jasmine rally," which also appeared lightly attended and free of major incident.
The online protest appeals, demanding government transparency and accountability to the people to prevent abuses, is believed to have made the Chinese leaders deeply nervous about any signs of opposition to its one-party rule.
Earlier Sunday, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao promised action on top public concerns, including soaring inflation, runaway economic growth, and official corruption.
"The purpose of our economic development is to meet the people's growing material and cultural needs, and make the lives of ordinary people better and better," Wen said.
Reported by Rachel Vandenbrink and news agencies.