HONG KONG • Chinese riot police yesterday fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters in a village once dubbed a symbol of grassroots democracy, residents and Hong Kong media said, less than a week after the elected village chief was jailed for corruption.
Pre-dawn police raids turned to violence after least 13 people were arrested in Wukan fishing village in the southern province of Guangdong, residents said.
Human rights activists in Hong Kong believe the crackdown could represent a final push to silence Wukan, whose villagers received international attention after an 2011 uprising led to the authorities granting direct village-wide elections.
A Wukan resident reached by Reuters by cellphone confirmed the clashes, saying riot police hit people with batons, setting off tear gas grenades and firing rubber bullets at villagers, including old people.
He said police had entered the village in their "thousands"and clashes were continuing. Others said between 300 and 400 police were involved in the operation, including house-to-house searches.
The raids came days after popular and democratically elected village chief Lin Zuluan, one of the last of the 2011 protest leaders to remain in office, was jailed for three years on graft and other charges.
The sentence outraged many villagers and one said at the time that fresh unrest was likely.
Thousands also took to the streets in June to protest the arrest of Lin, who later appeared on television in what villagers believed was a forced confession. Protest leaders are either in detention, in exile, facing arrest or quitting their posts.
Photos on social media purporting to be from Wukan showed villagers with wounds that appeared to be from rubber bullets.
One video obtained by the Hong Kong government-funded RTHK shows a loud bang and a flash going off near dozens of policemen huddled in formation behind shields.
The official microblog of Lufeng county police, who oversee Wukan, stated yesterday the 13 people arrested had been organising illegal assemblies and used threats to force villagers to join since June 19, a day after Lin was detained.