Six policemen in the northeastern province of Heilongjiang have been detained for allegedly beating a college student to death after a nightclub dispute, mainland media reported yesterday. The death of Lin Songling, 22, has sparked protests near the centre of Harbin city in the past two days, according to witnesses and the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy. Enraged relatives and fellow students from the Harbin Institute of Physical Education gathered outside a government office building near the scene in Nangang district and blocked a main road. The rights group said the number of protesters exceeded 100. Xinhua reported yesterday that Lin and four other students had a squabble with six plain-clothes police officers over a parking space outside the Box nightclub at about 10pm on Saturday. The quarrel soon escalated into a fight, according to the Heilongjiang Morning Post. Quoting witnesses, the report said police officers, who were from various police stations in the city, dragged Lin 80 metres away from his friends, took off his shirt and beat him to death. Local police were accused of being too slow to stop the fatal assault after they received witnesses' reports about the fight, according to the Hong Kong rights group. Witnesses were quoted by the group as saying police arrived at the scene at least 40 minutes after being called. Lin's relatives blocked Xidazhi Street yesterday morning, placing his body in the middle of the road, a witness said. The road was cleared later by a large number of armed police, he said. The incident, which sparked public outrage, has received unprecedented attention from local authorities. Xinhua said a vice-mayor of the city and police officers from the provincial public security bureau were summoned to the scene to lead the investigation. The Harbin public security bureau even gave a media briefing yesterday about the initial findings of its investigation, an event that rarely happens for a criminal case of this kind on the mainland. Local police pledged to punish those held responsible for Lin's death, Xinhua said. The rights group said that the local government's concern about the incident came after the Guizhou authorities' mishandling of the death of a teenage girl, which sparked mass riots. It said top city cadres had an emergency meeting yesterday.