Bystanders in southern China attacked government officers who assaulted four disabled street musicians, a local official and a US-based broadcaster said, the latest in a recent string of violent mob incidents in the country's poor hinterland.
Radio Free Asia said Tuesday some officers were hurt in the city of Qinzhou, in the Guangxi region, quoting eyewitnesses as saying hundreds of people were involved in the incident.
City officials confirmed the clash but gave few details.
RFA said trouble started on Saturday evening when four officers from Qinzhou's construction inspection team told the buskers to leave.
``They came over and said we weren't allowed to sing, that we were causing an obstruction to traffic and affecting the city's environmental quality,'' one of the musicians, a 22-year-old man surnamed Chen, was quoted as saying.
He said he and two of his companions were crippled, while the fourth was blind.
A crowd quickly formed and became angry when the officers kicked and punched the buskers, RFA said. The musicians told RFA that the crowd pulled the police off them and beat the officers.
A man who answered the telephone Wednesday at the Qinzhou public security bureau confirmed that there had been "an incident."
"It was just a clash between law enforcement officers and local people," said the man, who refused to give his name. "But I wouldn't call it a riot."
He said he had no other details and hung up.
A woman contacted at Qinzhou's city government who would only give her family name, Li, said the buskers were breaking the law "and local officers were trying to correct them."
"The police beat them and they were sent to the hospital, where their condition was stable," Li said. She said that there had been "a lot of bystanders but no one participated or was injured."
Disputes in China, many sparked by anger over official corruption and poverty, often escalate at an alarming rate because large numbers of bystanders congregate quickly. Those involved in the argument often call on friends and family members to help out.
In October, an argument in the streets of the southwestern municipality of Chongqing erupted into a riot involving hundreds of people after a man claimed to be a government official and threatened to have another man beaten.
Last month, rioters in southern Guangdong Province torched a toll booth and overturned a fire truck, leaving one person dead and eight others injured.
Also in November, martial law was declared in a town in central China after four days of clashes between the country's main ethnic group and a Muslim minority group left seven people dead and 42 injured.
Foreign media put the death toll at 148.