Police armed with shields, clubs and attack dogs fired tear gas on thousands of villagers protesting alleged land grabs by officials in southern China, Hong Kong media reported yesterday.
Hong Kong Cable TV showed footage of protesters in the village of Sanzhou in Guangdong Province throwing rocks and sticks at the riot police on Thursday as clouds of tear gas blew through the crowd.
An unspecified number of villagers were injured, the Chinese-language Ming Pao Daily News reported.
Calls to both the Sanzhou village government were not answered, while a local Public Safety Bureau official, who refused to give his name, said he was not clear about the situation.
The villagers, who have been protesting about corruption for months, surrounded a warehouse on Wednesday they said was built on land that was illegally seized and sold to developers, the English-language South China Morning Post reported, quoting unidentified villagers.
The protesters blocked off the building as dozens of officials and foreign guests from Thailand, Germany and Britain were inside the structure attending an inauguration ceremony, the paper reported.
They later let the foreigners leave but held the officials, demanding they investigate the alleged land grab and punish village chiefs, the Post said.
About 1,000 riot police arrived on Thursday and began firing tear gas before escorting the trapped officials out of the building, the Post and Ming Pao reported.
After the villagers dispersed, the riot police stayed in the area until late on Thursday night, Ming Pao said.
The demonstration highlights the growing discontent in China's largely poor countryside, where land disputes between farmers and local authorities often spark violent protests.
Many rural residents say they have lost their land and livelihoods to make way for factories and shopping malls and have not been given the compensation promised by officials.