Thousands of protesters took to the streets of the southwestern Chinese city of Luzhou yesterday after reports a truck driver had been beaten to death by policemen, residents said, but Chinese state media said the driver had died after falling ill.
Pictures and video on China’s popular microblogging site Sina Weibo showed a body sprawled out on the ground next to a truck as police held back onlookers.
Foreign media were unable to independently verify the photos and calls seeking comment from the Luzhou government in Sichuan Province went unanswered.
The Chinese Communist Party has been trying to keep a lid on protests ahead of a meeting in Beijing next month which will usher in a new generation of leaders.
Residents contacted by telephone said they had heard reports that traffic policemen had beaten a truck driver to death after an unspecified dispute.
“People are very angry about this and are out on the streets to show their anger,” said one resident of the Hongxingcun neighborhood where the unrest was focused.
He did not witness the incident and declined to give his name.
A manager at a local restaurant surnamed Wang (王) added that several thousand people had taken to the streets.
Images posted later in the evening showed overturned police cars, some of which had been set alight. Some Weibo posts said police had used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.
State media yesterday siad that five police cars had been set on fire and 20 people detained. However, it denied the driver had been beaten to death.
Xinhua news agency said the driver had “suddenly felt uncomfortable” during a scuffle with police about where to park his truck and doctors called to the scene were unable to save his life.
“As a result, some people attacked police cars at the site, the report added.
The Chinese Communist Party worries that the tens of thousands of sporadic protests over land grabs, corruption, abuse of power and economic grievances that break out every year could coalesce into a national movement and threaten its control.
China saw almost 90,000 such “mass incidents” of riots, protests, mass petitions and other acts of unrest in 2009, according to a study conducted last year by two academics from Nankai University in north China. Some estimates go even higher.
That is an increase from 2007, when China had over 80,000 mass incidents, according to an earlier report from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.
Most protests are either dispersed by security forces, or by officials promising demonstrators their demands will be heeded. None have so far even come close to becoming national movements which could challenge the central government.