Nearly 1,000 villagers in an impoverished coastal community in Hainan province smashed government buildings, torched official vehicles and cut power supplies to their township on Monday night after authorities failed to address a dispute about a student fight, state media reported yesterday. Indignant farmers from Gancheng township in Dongfang attacked the town's government offices and police bureau during a six-hour riot, setting fire to the bureau and piles of government documents. A government vehicle and a police patrol car at the scene were also burned, Xinhua said. The villagers cut electricity supply lines to the township, plunging more than 20,000 villagers into darkness. No casualties or arrests were reported but the city deployed more than 100 officials to the community, one of the poorest places in the nation, in an attempt to ease tensions yesterday. Xinhua cited officials as saying the riot was caused by a fight between teenage students from two villages at odds over alleged long-term favouritism by authorities. 'Three high school students from two different villages fought over quarrels and the teenager from Gancheng village complained to parents that he was constantly bullied by those from Baoshang village at school,' Dongfang spokesman Fu Bo said. 'His parents gathered some 20 relatives outside the town government building to demand an explanation about the fight, and their demonstration attracted nearly 1,000 villagers before it finally turned into a riot.' He said several children from the village were admitted to hospital after suffering beatings from neighbouring villagers, and many of the rioters were fellow villagers of the injured children. One woman told the South China Morning Post that the riot broke out when their demands for justice were not met. 'At least eight villagers were hacked by long knives, but the local government simply ignored it,' she said, accusing township officials of collusion. The incident highlights the mainland's fragile social fabric and the public's strong resentment against social injustice. Feelings are sometimes so strong that even small neighbourhood conflicts can develop into large social unrest. Powerless farmers who have no way to air their grievances more frequently turn to protests to defend their interests, suggesting that mainland authorities face a tough year ahead as the global financial crisis squeezes incomes. In the last year, protesters in Guizhou, Yunnan and Gansu have torched public security offices and county government headquarters, blocked main streets and directly attacked police officers because of improper enforcement measures. Political analysts say that in many cases a lack of responsibility shown by low-level officials had exacerbated the situation.