Beijing police issued a security alert on Tuesday as thousands of People's Liberation Army (PLA) veterans converged on military headquarters in the Chinese capital.
Thousands of veterans were reportedly heading towards the Central Military Commission (CMC) of the ruling Chinese Communist Party amid an ongoing protest over a lack of promised pension payments, medical and social security benefits, according to a police bulletin seen by RFA.
"Intelligence reports indicate that large numbers of people will be making their way to Aug. 1 Building to campaign for their rights," the notice, issued by the city police department's transportation police team, said.
It said the Beijing municipal police department had issued preventive security measures in the city to prevent large crowds of people from gathering, following mass protests by thousands of veterans outside the CMC last month.
"Please ... step up monitoring of any routes including the Museum of Military History and on all routes coming into and leaving Beijing," the directive ordered.
"Any sightings of people with a military air about them, wearing former military uniforms and medals, carrying banners or other military equipment, predominantly male and aged between 40 and 60, must be reported immediately by calling the police reporting number, 110," it said.
Eyewitnesses told RFA that roads leading to the CMC had been closed off amid a huge police presence from the early hours of Tuesday morning.
A local resident surnamed Yang said it was unclear whether any PLA veterans had managed to break through the security cordon and approach the building.
'Kick up a fuss in Beijing'
One veteran who declined to be named said he had heard about the protest.
"They have all gone off to Beijing," he said. "I have photos to show you."
"A lot of them were from Hunan, and also veterans from Sichuan and Shanxi," he said. "It really makes an impact if we kick up a fuss in Beijing."
Provincial-level officials were ordered to Beijing by central government in mid-October to begin escorting thousands of disgruntled veterans back to their hometowns following mass protests outside military headquarters that took the authorities by surprise.
The veterans, most of whom are protesting local governments' failure to deliver on promises of jobs, pensions and healthcare after demobilization, wore camouflage uniforms, sang army songs and held banners from cities and regions across China.
Some were veterans of the Korean War (1950-1953) and of a brief 1979 border war with Vietnam, while others were involved in nuclear testing. They came from all ranks of the military, protesters said.
Under the current system, Beijing expects local governments to take care of economic conflicts such as unpaid pensions, salaries and fraud, while central government insists on dealing directly with any potential political challenges to party power.
PLA veterans returning from Beijing to towns and cities in the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Shandong, the south-central province of Henan and Hebei, which borders Beijing, were targeted for detention and questioning, they told RFA at the time.
China’s army of petitioners, who include PLA veterans, say they are repeatedly stonewalled, detained in “black jails,” beaten, and harassed by authorities if they try to take complaints against local government actions to higher levels of government.
Teams of interceptors
Local and regional governments employ teams of "interceptors" working out of representative offices in Beijing and other big cities to detain and bring home anyone who tries to complain about them to higher levels of government.
One Beijing-based veteran who has pursued similar complaints against the government for many years said many fear that promises made last month when the authorities were anxious to get the crowds to disperse wouldn't be kept.
"I heard about this," the veteran said. "We have been trying to secure the proper payments and housing for many years now, but they won't sort it out."
"They have made promises but they just keep dragging their feet," he said. "They have done nothing they promised to do."
Veterans told RFA at the time that some local authorities had promised to reply to veterans' complaints by Jan. 1, 2017 at the latest.
A veteran surnamed Zhang said many PLA veterans in their 50s and 60s are struggling to get enough to eat.
"The main issue is that they want to be sure of getting enough to eat," he said. "They want to be properly taken care of by the state."
Guangzhou-based rights activist Jia Pin said the protests are likely to escalate, and that those who traveled to Beijing on Tuesday might not be the same veterans who took part in last month's protests.
"This is definitely going to grow," he said. "I read that the authorities had agreed to some of their demands, so maybe some other veterans saw that, and this is their reaction."
"This is a large segment of the population ... some of them served in the 1990s, while still others go all the way back to the 1960s," Jia said.
Reported by Qiao Long for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wong Siu-san and Sing Man for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.