Riot police deployed in Wukan. Photo: SCMP Pictures
Villagers have clashed with riot police in Wukan in southern China after officers forced their way into homes in the remote fishing village and arrested at least 13 villagers early on Tuesday.
The arrests came less than a week after a popular and democratically elected village chief, Lin Zuluan, was sentenced to three years imprisonment on graft and other charges.
One person in touch with relatives in Wukan told Reuters that between 300-400 police were involved in the raids.
According to witnesses and video footage obtained by the South China Morning Post, villagers were injured by rubber bullets and tear gas shells were seen scattered on the ground.
Some villagers were also seen throwing stones at the police in one video clip.
Villagers said that the village was now controlled by the authorities and everybody wanting to enter or leave had to go through ID checks.
The public security bureau in Lufeng in Guangdong province announced on Tuesday morning that police had arrested 13 suspects from Wukan for allegedly disturbing public order.
"As of June 19, lawbreakers including villagers of Wukan under Lufeng city's Donghai township, Cai Jialin, Zhang Xiangkeng and Yang Jinzhen continued to fabricate rumours and deploy measures such as threats, insults, force and bribes to instigate, to plan and to launch illegal mass gatherings," the statement said.
"This has disturbed public order including local traffic, school, fishery production and the business of local shops, posing a negative social influence," the statement added.
"Despite repeated lecturing and warnings, Cai, Zhang and Yang as well as several others continued to ignore the law."
Wukan villagers said that riot police stormed into Wukan at about 3 am before breaking into homes around an hour later to make arrests.
Photographs posted by villagers showed their homes' metal gates broken or torn down during the raids.
Villagers began a stand-off with riot police after sunrise, with bricks thrown and rounds of tear gas fired.
Photographs and videos posted by villagers appeared to show residents injured by rubber bullets.
Wukan carries symbolic importance due to the success of 2011 protests that broke out over land seizures and corruption. Villagers were able to expel government officials and police, and barricaded the village. The siege was resolved only after the provincial secretary of China's Communist Party agreed to allow a local election. The winner of that election was Lin, a former protest leader. Lin was planning to lead a new round of protests this year over more land grabs. Instead, authorities detained him and then charged him with taking bribes.
Lin's supporters said that he was wrongfully charged and have staged more than 80 straight days of rallies since he was detained.
In recent decades, China has allowed a small number of elections for positions below the township level, though national and provincial party officials continue to be selected internally.