Police in Guangzhou's Panyu district arrested 18 women from Taishi village in a pre-dawn raid yesterday to break their hunger strike in front of the district government office, releasing them at noon. The protesters were pressing for the removal of their village chief for alleged corruption. 'There were 20 of us who spent the night outside the government office. At about 5.45am a police officer told us to leave. He said he would give us five minutes to go or else he would arrest us,' said a 36-year-old villager who was the only one who managed to escape, apart from another villager who left before the raid. 'At first we refused to go and then we saw 40 to 50 riot police come out of the office. When they started grabbing people, I saw they were serious and I started to run. Three of us ran away,' she said. Two of those who fled were caught, but she shook off five or six pursuers by hiding in a lane until it was safe to return to her village. More villagers were sent to continue the strike for a second day and were told by police that those arrested would be released after questioning. Meanwhile, another villager, Feng Weinan, whose arrest on August 16 sparked clashes between police and villagers, was released after 15 days in custody. Mr Feng was picked up by a group of men who bundled him into a van and took him to a police custody centre in Panyu. 'They questioned me to find out who was the mastermind behind our action. They threatened to send me to a re-education through labour camp if I didn't tell them everything,' Mr Feng said. The windscreen and windows of this South China Morning Post reporter's taxi were smashed in Taishi by five youths on two motorcycles. When I accompanied the driver to the nearby Yuwotou police station to lodge a report, I was detained for the second day in a row, this time for nearly five hours. Panyu publicity section chief Zhang Zhiming later apologised for the handling of the detention following intervention from the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, the Guangdong Foreign Affairs Office and the Guangzhou Information Office. Asking for understanding of China's 'national situation', Mr Zhang said: 'These people are out to destroy the village. We had to take action because we saw the situation had changed. They did not really want to resolve the problem, but to stop the government from functioning.' For a month, the villagers had mounted an around the clock watch to secure the village accounts office, refusing to allow government officers to enter the building while they waited for auditors from Guangdong to investigate their claims that village chief Chen Jinsheng had embezzled funds from land sales and rentals. Mr Zhang accused the villagers of insincerity for insisting on a provincial-level audit instead of allowing a lower-level investigation.