Tensions escalated yesterday as Communist Party loyalists clashed with Southern Weekly supporters outside the Nanfang Media Group's headquarters in Guangzhou.
The disturbances came amid heightened security on the 8second day of protests against censorship at the newspaper.
About a dozen protesters began to gather outside the headquarters, which house Southern Weekly's office, around 10am amid a heavy police presence.
They called for press freedom and civil and constitutional rights while denouncing censorship by the authorities.
The crowd had grown to nearly 100 by around 11.30am when a group of about 10 party supporters rushed to the scene in dramatic fashion, waving giant 8national flags and huge banners.
The protesters accused the party loyalists of being members of the "50 fen gang" - people paid 50 fen for each positive online posting they make in support of the party and government.
Arguments broke out after the party loyalists accused the Southern Weekly supporters of being "traitors collaborating with hostile foreign powers" and said there should be "no free speech for traitors and traitor media".
The Southern Weekly supporters threw 50 fen notes and coins on the ground in front of them, with some of the party loyalists reacting by spitting on the ground. Foreign diplomats were spotted observing the protest. Even though there were more protesters outside the media group's headquarters on Monday, tensions were higher yesterday, with scuffles breaking out between the two groups. Police intervened and dispersed the Southern Weekly supporters at lunch time, while allowing the party loyalists to remain.
Liu Yimu, a 43-year-old former television journalist from Hunan, said he took the high-speed train from Changsha on Monday to show support for Southern Weekly.
"I'm here to mourn Southern Weekly's damaged editorial independence as many of their reporters have said the paper is already dead," Liu said. "As readers, we are all very sad.
"Southern Weekly has been through many censorship rows but what happened last Thursday was the worst."
The Southern Weekly supporters returned in the afternoon and were joined by democracy advocates from as far afield as Hunan and Jiangxi, who called for broader democratic rights, including elections.
Legal activist Guo Feixiong, who turned up at the scene yesterday afternoon, said the protests had turned into the first political gathering by mainlanders since the Tiananmen pro-democracy movement in 1989.
"It is no longer limited to showing support for Southern Weekly," he said. "And the speeches began to focus on calling for democracy, rule of law and a constitutional government."