Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong are calling on the organizers of a mass protest against a planned garbage incinerator to "turn themselves in," amid widespread public anger after more than 20 protesters were detained at the weekend.
Police in Boluo county near Huizhou city detained 24 people for "disturbing social order" and "causing heavy traffic jams", the newspaper quoted police as saying following a protest by around 1,000 local residents on Saturday, the state-run English-language China Daily newspaper reported.
Photos posted on popular social media sites showed protesters carrying banners which read: "I love Boluo: down with the incinerator!" and "No incinerator on the banks of the Dongjiang river!"
Others held homemade placards saying: "Boluo is my home," and "The future depends on us all."
A Boluo county resident surnamed Hou said the protest had started peacefully, but then escalated into violence as riot police moved in to clear the area.
"The armed police from the local police station blocked our path as we were marching, and there were some army personnel there too," Hou said.
"We, as citizens, were just expressing our opinions, but once they had kettled us, they started detaining people, even children and the elderly," he said.
"The armed police were chasing people and beating them; they weren't even detaining them, but just beating them up."
He said 24 people were detained in total, while eight were later released.
Further protests are planned outside the Huizhou municipal government buildings on Saturday, he said.
Meanwhile, police said they would "deal leniently" with anyone involved in the protests who surrendered themselves or informed against others within three days, it said, adding that eight people were subsequently released, the China Daily reported.
It said the protest was organized by "a handful of lawless people," and that those who took part were unaware of the truth of the government's plans.
Huizhou police detained a further five people on Sunday for "spreading false information over the Internet" to stir up protest against the project, the Hong Kong-based English-language South China Morning Post reported.
But a Huizhou resident surnamed Hu said it was the government that had kept the plans from the local people.
"It's not false information," Hu said. "These are the facts."
"There have been no reports in the Guangdong media about such a big story," he said. "It has been covered up."
Opposition to the planned facility is now widespread among local people, according to another Boluo resident surnamed Luo.
"They can't build this waste incinerator because it will pollute the air and water," Luo told RFA on Sunday. "If they build [it], then a lot of people won't want to bring their business here."
"It will have a negative effect on the local economy."
He said local residents turned out in their thousands on Saturday and Sunday in protest at the plan.
"I saw a lot of riot police and armed police there," Luo said. "They arrested quite a few people, and they also beat up some students."
Boluo residents are concerned that the planned incinerator is located too close their the chief source of drinking water, the Dongjiang river.
But county officials have said no final decision has yet been made regarding the incinerator's location.
Calls to the Boluo county government offices and police department rang unanswered on Sunday.
However, an operator who answered the mayoral hotline said the hotline team had alerted the mayor of Huizhou to the problem.
"We have had a lot of opinions from local people about the plans to build an incinerator," the operator said. "The final location of the incinerator hasn't been decided yet."
"There are three possible locations to choose from, and you can read about them on the city government website."
Growing waste disposal crisis
More than three decades of breakneck economic growth have left Guangdong with a rapidly growing waste disposal problem. But previous attempts to build similar plants elsewhere in the province have drawn widespread criticism over local government access to the huge potential profits from subsidies linked to waste-disposal projects.
Meanwhile, the province's seriously degraded environment has prompted a fast-maturing environmental movement to emerge among the region's middle classes and farming communities alike.
Last June, hundreds of homeowners at an up-market housing complex in Guangdong's Panyu city clashed with local authorities over a waste disposal plant under construction near their homes.
And in January, more than 10,000 residents staged a protest against a planned waste incinerator power plant near their homes in Guangdong's Shantou city.
Reported by Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin and Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.