At least seven residents of Dongzhou township in Shanwei, Guangdong province, were injured as a result of a confrontation with armed police on Friday, villagers said yesterday.
A resident who gave his name as Huang said villagers wanted to stop construction workers building power lines from a local electricity plant across their fields. He said officials had hired local thugs to stop the protesters and called in the police on Friday to disperse them.
He accused local officials of illegally taking over villagers' land in building the power plant and not paying them proper compensation. He was also angry that officials had called in anti-riot police armed with tear gas, batons and shields to quell their protests.
'I am not afraid,' the 20-year-old said. 'Why should I be frightened? They [local officials] took the compensation paid by the developer of the power plant, and we farmers got nothing. This is why we're so angry.'
Another resident, who declined to give her name, said the villagers were upset when construction workers arrived last week to build the power lines, and hundreds responded with protests.
Police were called in when about 300 villagers again tried to stop the construction workers. The confrontation soon turned violent.
Mr Huang said police fired tear gas to disperse the protesters and some were beaten. 'Everyone burst into tears and ran,' he said.
According to him, seven villagers were injured, including 40-year-old Lin Chai , who Mr Huang said was beaten by police when he was detained.
Mr Lin had been released, but he refused hospital treatment.
Mr Huang said another protester suffered injuries to his chest.
Villagers feared that police would begin to arrest protest leaders.
Work on the power lines has been suspended.
Dongzhou was the focus of a violent protest in 2005, when hundreds of villagers rioted over the construction of the power plant. At least three villagers were killed when police opened fire.
Authorities have since admitted officers had not strictly followed proper procedures in trying to control the protests.
Guangdong leaders including party secretary Zhang Dejiang have since spoken out, reminding cadres to be extra cautious in handling mass protests and ensuring social stability. Mr Zhang is considered a rising political star and has been tipped for promotion at the 17th Communist Party Congress.
A police officer in Dongzhou yesterday declined to comment on Friday's protest.
Attempts to contact officials of Honghai Bay district, which administers the area and Dongzhou township, were unsuccessful.
Protests over land disputes are common on the mainland.
On Saturday, farmers in a villagers in Harbin , Heilongjiang province, clashed with police over compensation for land by developers. Villagers reported that at least one protester had been killed.