A hostile crowd of more than 1,000 people camped outside the American embassy in the capital this week waiting to apply for visas. The US embassy and several consulates on the mainland were forced to start a first-come-first-served system for visa applicants after the mainland authorities closed down the Shanghai centre used for making appointments. By about 6pm on Tuesday, a crowd of more than 1,000 had gathered outside the embassy hoping to get an appointment for yesterday morning, the first day of the walk-in service. The atmosphere quickly became tense as word went around that the embassy could handle only 400 appointments a day. 'Most of us are going to wait here all night for nothing. We're sleeping on the street like animals and it's all useless,' one angry man shouted. By 7pm scuffles had broken out as a few people tried to force their way to the front of the queue. Dozens of armed police and soldiers moved in. A police spokesman used a loudhailer to urge calm. The tense atmosphere eased only when the police announced they would hand out numbers to people who were camping overnight, ensuring they would get priority treatment for appointments. 'Everyone who is here now will get an appointment either tomorrow or the next day. We guarantee that,' a police officer announced to loud cheers from the crowd. Many in the crowd expressed anger at the embassy officials. 'They treat us like dogs,' said Liu Lu, a university student from Shenyang in Liaoning province . 'Why do they always think they are better than Chinese? Could you imagine American people sleeping on the street to get a visa to China? It is impossible to imagine.' A Beijing-based diplomat said mainland authorities had been forced to find a quick compromise because they did not want irate crowds gathering in the capital every night to wait for visas. 'Timing is everything. Just a few days before June 4 and you've got a spectre of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of angry people queuing up all night just a mile from Tiananmen Square,' he said.