The Ximen River flows quietly through the small, mountainous county of Wengan in Guizhou province . Straddling the 'Mother River of Wengan' is the Dayan Bridge - one of four bridges in this small, remote mining town. It was on its banks that the body of 17-year-old Li Shufen lay in a refrigerated coffin on June 30 - nine days after she allegedly drowned and was pulled from the river. Her death sparked outrage among local residents that has boiled for weeks. Authorities insisted that Shufen had killed herself, denying that she was raped and murdered, as was claimed by her family and some residents. Rejecting official explanations, and claiming police had long colluded with crime gangs, thousands of locals led by students rioted on June 28. Government offices and the county police headquarters were attacked and police cars set ablaze. Dozens of police were injured. As of last Saturday, at least 117 people had been detained. The Wengan riots, which took place less than two months before the Olympic Games, once again placed the mainland's fragile governance at the grass roots in the international spotlight and raised questions about the way local officials and police handle protests. Last Saturday, two rubber farmers in Yunnan were shot dead by riot police during a similar action. Officials in Wengan have insisted the riots were instigated by gangsters. Although provincial leaders later fired the county's top leadership and its police chief, they stood firmly by the line that Shufen had committed suicide and that three companions who were with her shortly before midnight on the night she died were not responsible for her death. Three autopsies have been held since Shufen's death, with experts from outside Wengan helping, but most residents suspect a cover-up and foul play. Wang, a villager who lives by the river and would only be identified by his family name, said he had tried to save the teenager that Saturday night and was yet to be convinced she died from drowning. He said the spot where Shufen was said to have jumped from the bridge was only a little more than two metres deep and the bridge itself was just a metre above the water. 'Shufen's uncle Li Xiuzhong jumped into the water with another relative to find her body,' Mr Wang said. 'When they found her, it was about 3.45am.' He said Shufen was found about two to three metres downstream from the bridge and there was no clear evidence that she had drowned. 'We could not find cuts on her body and no water came out when we pushed her abdomen. More importantly, the bridge is not that tall and the water is not deep and the current is not strong, so all of us at the scene did not believe she drowned,' he said. Mr Wang was also angry that officials allegedly lied about how police and firemen had tried to save Shufen. 'They [firemen and police] came but said that they'd got no suitable equipment to do the search and just left,' he said. 'What the government is now saying is that firemen or police found the body. It is just bulls***. I witnessed the whole thing and I can say responsibly that this is a lie. Local officials are lying both to their superiors and to us ordinary people. And local people in Wengan have no way to express their anger because we will be arrested if we speak out publicly.' The three companions - Shufen's classmate Wang Jiao , Chen Guangquan , who claimed to be Shufen's boyfriend, and Chen's friend Liu Yanchao - were key witnesses to the teenager's death. Liu and Chen were apprentices at an aluminium factory. However, Shufen's brother Li Shuyong said he didn't know them. The three have not been seen in public since her drowning. In their only interview published by Guizhou official media almost two weeks after the riots, they repeated the official story of how Shufen had killed herself but were unable to explain why. They three have not been heard from or seen since. Zhang Guomin , Shufen's head teacher, spoke highly of his former student. 'I never heard any teachers say anything bad about Shufen,' he said. 'She did very well in school and her conduct was good. Wang Jiao was not doing as well [as Shufen], although she was obedient.' Residents also disputed official versions of how the riots started: some pointed fingers at local leaders who had allegedly run away during the chaos. One witness who lived near where the riots took place, but did not give her name, said the protests were led by students. 'The protesters, many of them high-school students, vandalised and overturned police vehicles before setting them on fire,' she said. 'The burned cars released thick black smoke ... I was so scared.' Another witness said the crowd appeared to cheer the students on in the riots. 'Every time some protesters overturned a vehicle or threw rocks that smashed the windows of the county police headquarters, thousands of the spectators surrounding them screamed and clapped,' she said. 'Their spirits were so high that it was like they were attending a concert or a party. It seemed [the riots] are what the crowd wanted.' A young man who saw the rioting also said some protestors seemed to 'protect' the leaders and wanted the destruction to continue. He said the crowd often shielded the riot leaders with their bodies to prevent them from being photographed by police. He said some protesters blocked the fire engines when the county government offices were on fire. A restaurant owner who saw the rioting said he was disgusted that Wang Qin , the county party secretary, and Wang Haiping , the government chief, were nowhere to be seen during the riots. Both men were later sacked. 'They only appeared on television after the riot, when thousands of armed police came,' the restaurant boss said. 'Where were they when the people wanted them,' he asked. 'Are they members of the Communist Party? If they call themselves Communist Party members, they should stand before the protesters and explain to them what they could do to resolve the problem.' Another witness said the gathering turned violent when protesters saw police beat students. Xu Zhiyong , a human rights lawyer, said the riots in Wengan were not isolated incidents. He said 'every county is Wengan', and that tensions prevailed between authorities and the people across the country for various reasons. 'Mass protests like this have increased [in China] since 2000,' Mr Xu said. 'The tension eased somewhat last year,' he said, citing two cases of public protests over forced evictions in Chongqing and the construction of a chemical plant in Xiamen , Fujian province , as examples. 'But this year, the authorities have given top priority to maintaining social stability because of the Beijing Olympics,' Mr Xu said. 'I'm afraid the tension has risen again despite authorities wanting to calm things down.' A Wengan resident said poor governance and widespread corruption were to blame. 'Wengan fits a Chinese saying: the mountains are high and the emperor far away,' he said. He said collusion between police and gangsters was well known and people were angry that no one seemed to care. 'Ordinary people here used to whisper that local police colluded with criminals as though they are from the same family,' the retired worker added. Even the sacked police chief, Shen Guirong , admitted the force was not blameless. 'I can tell you collusion between police and local gangs definitely existed in Wengan, although we can't say who is involved,' he told the China News Weekly recently. Wengan county, which only became known in recent years for its mining, has one of the highest crime rates in Guizhou province. 'According to a survey of the public sense of security in the province, only 59 per cent of respondents in Wengan said that they felt safe,' said Cui Yadong , head of Guizhou Public Security Bureau. 'This is one of the lowest in Guizhou.' A school girl who lives near the police headquarters in Wengan said robberies took place on the street near her house twice or three times a month. 'Parents here won't let their children go out after dark,' she said. A month after the riots, authorities were eager to project normality. But for Shufen's parents the mourning continues. Her father, Li Xiuhua , said he was under pressure to drop the case. Her mother, Luo Pingbi , said they were warned that if they went to Beijing to petition, they would be sent back. 'One public security officer told me to give up filing any lawsuit,' Mr Li said. 'He said that it doesn't matter where I go and what I do - the result will be the same. There is neither fairness nor justice in the world.'