The death of a Hunan watermelon vendor has reignited public outrage against the chengguan force in China as the latest incident of what some call excessive violence has triggered a protest in the south-central province.
The Linwu county government dispatched more than 200 riot police on Thursday morning to seize a farmer’s body and disperse protesters who had gathered in the area to demand fair punishment of the chengguan, an urban management force, a journalist reported .
Linwu farmer Deng Zhengjia, 56, was reported dead on Wednesday morning after he and his wife clashed with local urban management officers at their stand. The Beijing News quoted a witness as saying eight officers beat the couple while one of them struck Deng's head with a metal measuiring weight. When Deng fell to the ground, the chengguan refused to call an ambulance and left the scene, witnesses said.
An ambulance later arrived, but Deng was already dead. His wife, who had minor wounds, was taken to hospital.
The conflict first began when chengguang fined the couple 100 yuan (HK$126) and confiscated some of their watermelons, saying they were operating a vendor stand without a licence and proper uniforms, according to Deng's relatives.
Local authorities issued a statement on Wednesday afternoon, saying that Deng had "suddenly fallen to the ground and died" during the incident. But the victim’s relatives were not convinced, and said Deng has always been in good health.
Chengguan, which are installed in almost every city, mostly clamp down on illegal street vendors. They have increasingly made the news in recent years for their bullying, which has often resulted in injuries and sometimes death.
On Wednesday, hundreds of angry onlookers, who called the officers' enforcement methods violent, joined Deng's relatives and surrounded his body, refusing to leave the scene. They fended off attempts by authorities to seize the body because they were concerned it would not be given a proper and transparent autopsy.
The stand-off, which lasted until early Thursday morning, led to several confrontations between the police and public overnight, according to website journalist Cao Xiaobo, of state-run China Central Television. At least 10 people were injured as of Thursday morning, Cao reported from a local hospital.
Two television reporters from Hunan Economic TV also sustained multiple wounds from police beatings after they tried to shoot video at the scene on Wednesday night, the Beijing News  reported. “Don't you dare shoot [video] or you will die here,” they heard the police who had thick wooden sticks in their hands as saying. The reporters also told the newspaper that police smashed their car and took away one of their mobile phones.
Local police on Wednesday night said they had detained several chengguan members for investigation, the Beijing News reported. The government also said it had set up various task forces to deal with the matter and vowed to investigate all relevant parties.