A man died following clashes between police and local residents protesting a forced land grab by authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan, officials said on Wednesday after relatives paraded his body through the streets in protest, bringing traffic to a halt.
The death came amid three days of bloody clashes between armed police, hired thugs, and local residents opposed to the loss of their farmland near Yunnan's Zhaotong city, residents and officials said.
"A man died at 10:50 a.m. on May 13 on the street opposite the Walmart store on Zhaotong Avenue," the city's Zhaoyang district government said on its official Twitter-like account on Wednesday.
"The relatives of the deceased carried his body to the intersection, where they blocked the road and caused a major stoppage of traffic," the statement on the government's Sina Weibo account said.
"Large numbers of vehicles were in gridlock, and traffic returned to normal at around 4:00 p.m. the same day," it said.
The statement identified the body as that of Jia Qiyun, 52.
Body 'black and blue'
Jia's relatives said that he had been beaten to death by police or hired thugs, and that they were keeping his body in a freezer.
"He was black and blue all over," Jia's younger brother told RFA. "We are all extremely upset about this ... and we are thinking about how to pursue those responsible."
Photos of the scene posted to social media and later deleted showed a body wrapped in a white shroud, surrounded by protesters carrying red banners.
"The Taiping village government has beaten up the villagers of [Zhaoyang's] Fuqiang village," the banners read.
"Our leaders are dominating the people, occupying their farmland, illegally detaining villagers who petition," they said.
"Give us back the land that is legally ours," the banners said.
A Taiping resident surnamed Wang said the standoff had been going on for around three weeks before flaring into violence.
Villagers had been taking it in turns to maintain the blockade, with dozens of people sitting in at any given time, he said.
"There have been clashes in recent days, as the government has brought in police and chengguan [urban management officials] to move them away," Wang said.
"One person died and several more were injured," he said.
The clashes came after the government tried to begin work on a planned commercial district on local farmland, Wang added.
"The government has already signed a deal with the developer, and work is about to begin," he said.
"The villagers went and occupied their own land and stopped construction from starting; this has been going on for more than 20 days now," Wang added.
Unidentified men wielding electric cattle prods and large knives surrounded several dozen villagers sitting in at the proposed construction site late on Sunday, sparking clashes that lasted until the early hours of Monday, local residents said.
"There were around 200 police and hired thugs who descended on the land in question," one eyewitness told RFA.
"All of a sudden, all the streetlights went out, and some thugs came with iron bars, and the riot police had electric batons," she said.
"There are still quite a few villagers in the hospital."
She said two people had died in the violence, a report that RFA was unable to confirm independently.
Jia's body had been paraded through the streets in a freezer, she added.
"The riot police tried to snatch it away to take it for cremation, but around 2,000 bystanders gathered round, so they [were afraid] of igniting popular anger," said the local resident, who asked to remain anonymous.
Land grab going ahead
An official who answered the phone at the municipal police department confirmed the land grab was going ahead.
"They are requisitioning [land]," he said. But he added: "I'm not in charge of this."
Repeated calls to the Zhaoyang district government offices rang unanswered during office hours on Wednesday.
An employee who answered the phone at the Taiping village government declined to comment. "I don't know anything about this," the employee said.
Reported by Grace Kei Lai-see for RFA's Cantonese Service and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.