Security forces mobilized to suppress protests in China's east, a monitoring group and eyewitness said Thursday, in the latest bout of unrest roiling parts of the country.
The unrest in Taizhou broke out Tuesday after the head of a local village government got into a physical confrontation with gas station employees during negotiations over land compensation fees the gas station's owner was to pay villagers, the group and eyewitness said.
Within hours, hundreds of fellow residents of Rishanfen village had surrounded the gas station, blocked an adjacent airport expressway, and seized a man who had struck the village chief, said the eyewitness, the owner of a nearby garment factory.
Riot police then deployed, leading to scuffles with villagers, said the factory owner, who declined to be identified by name for fear of repercussions. Reinforcements arrived Wednesday and officers detained about a dozen people, including the chief, other village officials and anyone found with images of the protest on their mobile phones, the man said.
As with many of the protests across China, the Taizhou incident appears rooted in disagreements over compensation to villagers for land seized for development.
The Hong Kong-based Information Center for Human Rights and Democracy said villagers hard pressed by soaring inflation had been hoping for an increase in payments from businesses in the industrial park, including the gas station. The factory owner, however, said many believed that compensation offered by the gas station had been embezzled by the former head of Rishanfen, who is now the local Communist Party secretary _ a much more powerful position.
Calls to police and government offices in Taizhou rang unanswered or were answered by people who said they had no information about the protests and wouldn't give their names.
It was third large-scale outburst of unrest in recent days, mainly fueled by common resentments over social inequality, abuse of power and suppression of legitimate grievances.
While bound to worry Beijing, it isn't clear if the series of incidents was a blip or part of a trend toward greater unrest.
While such incidents appear to be growing more frequent _ and more violent _ their impact is also being magnified by the Internet, text messaging and microblogs that spread word faster and more widely, said Liu Shanyin, a scholar of public administration at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. Rising inflation and job pressure does seem to be taking a toll, however, Liu said.
"One of the most obvious trends is that the public is gradually losing their basic sense of security," Liu said. "Local governments don't seem to understand. They have many great slogans and catchphrases such as 'happiness, harmony and a civil society,' but what's the point in having all these when you can't even have your security guaranteed?"
In what appeared to be the most serious recent incident, police arrested at least 25 people following weekend rioting in Xintang in the manufacturing powerhouse province of Guangdong. Security forces there clashed with migrant workers from the southwestern province of Sichuan.
On Wednesday, a woman was arrested for spreading rumors of the death of a migrant blamed for fueling the violence, local police said on their microblog.
Last week, residents of Lichuan in the central province of Hubei laid siege to government offices after a local city council member died in custody. A number of local government officials have been fired or placed under investigation over the death in an attempt to appease public anger.
China's Communist Party leadership has reacted nervously to the turmoil, especially after popular uprisings began sweeping the Middle East and North Africa this year. In recent months, hundreds of government critics have been questioned, arrested or simply disappeared.
Associated Press Writer Chi-Chi Zhang contributed to this report.