BEIJING (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters took to the streets in the city of Luzhou in southwestern China on Wednesday, after reports a truck driver was beaten to death by policemen, residents said.
Pictures and video on China's popular microblogging site Sina Weibo showed an apparently dead man sprawled out on the ground next to a truck as police held back onlookers.
Reuters was unable to independently verify the photos and calls seeking comment from the Luzhou government in Sichuan province went unanswered.
China's 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 who gave her family name as Wang 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 the police had used tear gas to disperse the demonstrators.
"The protests are still going on," a third resident, who gave his family name as Li, said by telephone.
China's ruling 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 2011 study by two scholars 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.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)