SHANGHAI/BEIJING • Hundreds of people have marched through a shopping district in Shanghai to protest against changes to housing regulations - a rare show of public dissent in the financial hub.
Footage of the protests late on Saturday shared on social media showed hundreds of demonstrators holding placards and shouting slogans while marching along Nanjing Road, a shopping strip in the city centre.
One video seen by Reuters showed police setting up blockades and dragging a demonstrator away. Media carried no reports of the demonstrations, while mentions of the protests on social media were scrubbed by Internet censors.
The Shanghai police did not respond to requests for comment.
Two witnesses told Reuters that about 10 of the protesters who were hoisting banners and appeared to be leading the demonstrations were taken away by police.
"One whole side of the street in front of the Apple store was filled with people," said a nearby stall owner who declined to be identified. He said the crowd had dispersed by 10pm, after about two hours. "The police came and took the leaders away."
Protesters were angry about measures announced on May 17 by the city housing bureau to "clean up and rectify" commercial office projects that had been converted into apartments to cater for residential needs - a grey area previously exploited by property developers who acquired land at prices below those for residential-zoned acreage.
The move, part of a bid to rein in property prices and speculation, required developers and buyers to rectify violations such as separately installed toilets before the properties could be sold, effectively rendering them uninhabitable and worth a fraction of the purchase price.
Some home owners felt aggrieved because they bought the apartments from developers off the plan, secured finance and locked themselves into a contract before being left stranded when the changes were announced.
A total of 17 million sq m of projects are targeted by the campaign, the Shanghai government said on its social media account, of which 5 million sq m have been delivered to buyers.
"They are shouting for their only home in Shanghai, bought by their whole family's savings through legal means," one person said in a Weibo post, which was later deleted.
"This year the government suddenly changed policies... leaving hundreds of thousands of ordinary home owners unable to normally sell their homes."
Protests, while still relatively rare in China, are breaking out more frequently over contentious issues that include the construction of garbage incinerators or pollution from factories near homes.