Authorities in a southern Chinese province are holding two people following clashes earlier this week with thousands of villagers who tried to prevent their farmland from being taken over for development, local residents said on Thursday.
Around 3,000 residents of three villages in Wushi township near the port city of Zhanjiang, Guangdong province took to the streets in anger on Wednesday after officials and construction teams moved in and cleared the land suddenly without any warning or compensation, a resident of Namao village surnamed Xu told RFA.
The authorities sent hundreds of armed police and local officials to the scene, but the situation escalated further after police detained two protesters.
"Suddenly, the authorities sent more than 400 riot police, armed police and regular police," Xu said. "There were four ambulances ... and more than a dozen police dogs."
"Within two days they had razed the land to nothing," he said. "They used mechanical diggers to scrape away all the agricultural work that had gone into the land."
He said the government claimed that a total area of 500 mu (82 acres) had been requisitioned, but villagers estimated that the true figure was closer to 1,000 mu (165 acres).
Large numbers of villagers had initially turned out on Wednesday in a bid to speak with Zhanjiang municipal party secretary Liu Xiaohua, who was on his way to the area on a visit, Xu said.
"When the [local government] heard about this, they turned aside and took Liu Xiaohua via a very small dirt track, and they left."
"Then the police ... started detaining people. Two people [were detained]."
He said villagers had been incensed by the arrests.
"They surrounded the police and wouldn't let them leave. There were several thousand people there after midnight," Xu said.
"They agreed to let the police leave after the head of Wushi township promised that the two villagers would be released on Thursday."
A second Namao resident who asked to remain anonymous said local people were also worried about reports that authorities are planning to build a coal-fired power station on the land.
"The main issue is the pollution, but the other problem is that the local government has given out very little in compensation," he said.
He said the government’s offer of 30,000 yuan (U.S. $4,900) per mu (one-sixth of an acre) wasn't enough for the loss of land that had supported many of the local families for generations.
"Villagers don't have much other income, so they rely on this land to get by," he added.
Calls to the Wushi township government offices rang unanswered during office hours on Thursday.
An official who answered the phone at nearby Leizhou city, which administers Wushi, declined to comment.
"I don't know about this, because I just work in the office here," the official said. "It's not my job to respond to inquiries."
Site to be razed
Xu said the government's offer of compensation hadn't been presented in official documents, and that none of the local farming families had yet received any money for the land.
"They won't show the documents to anyone," Xu said, adding that the land grab had been ordered by authorities in Zhanjiang.
"One of the township officials told me that the Zhanjiang party secretary had ordered that the entire site be razed within three days," he said.
Villagers first heard of the plan following a local government meeting with their representatives on Nov. 21, which was held behind locked iron doors, Xu said.
"They held that meeting from 9:00 a.m. to 3:40 p.m., but still the villagers wouldn't sign," he said. "They threatened they wouldn't be allowed to leave, then they offered them 1,000 yuan (U.S. $163) each to sign."
He said the meeting had been called by a Leizhou deputy mayor and the township party secretary from Wushi.
Neither of the detained villagers had been released by Thursday evening local time, according to a post on the Twitter-like service, Sina Weibo.
The requisitioning of rural land for lucrative property deals by cash-hungry local governments triggers thousands of "mass incidents" across China every year, as do protests against pollution or feared pollution.
Many result in violent suppression, the detention of the main organizers, and intense pressure on the local population to comply with the government's wishes.
Reported by Yang Fan for RFA's Mandarin Service, and by Wen Yuqing for the Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.