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Watch A Massive Group Of Police Swarm Protesters In A Chinese Village

The small town of Wukan, once the symbol of hope for democracy in China, is in the international spotlight after footage suggested a new wave of violent clashes between the authorities and villagers.

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Riot police arrested 13 protesters Tuesday as tear gas and rubber bullets were reportedly fired in the small southeastern fishing village of Wukan, which was once seen as a symbol of China's grassroots democracy movement.

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Footage circulated on social media shows an intense standoff between the police and villagers. Villagers waving red Chinese national flags can be seen throwing stones and hard objects at the police, said to number in the hundreds or even thousands depending on the estimate.

Zhuang Liehong, who formerly served on the village committee that once ran the town, said in a phone interview with BuzzFeed News that he was in contact with family members remaining in the village and deemed the videos of the swarming police authentic after viewing. Zhuang took political asylum in the US in 2014 around the time two other committee members were accused of corruption.

Those arrested on Tuesday were among a group villagers who have been protesting the detention and charging of the popular village chief Lin Zulian for corruption since June.

Vincent Yu / AP

Under Chinese law, official permission is required for any protest but such permission is almost never granted.

Lin, who appeared to be reading a script when he confessed on CCTV News to taking $6,600 in bribes, was sentenced to more than three years in prison last Thursday. The arrested protesters were charged with assembling a crowd to disrupt public order and impeding traffic.

Even as more photos and footage emerged, the local authorities dismissed reports that a clash between police and civilians had even happened.

#Wukan in lockdown again after village chief sentenced. Police broke into homes and people injured from shells.

They claimed on Weibo that the arrests were "supported by the masses," and warned that they would take action against "the individual internet users" who "publish false information and created the so-called 'Wukan Incident' with old pictures." Photos obtained by BBC producer Yu Xinyan, however, show a current timestamp alongside still-bleeding villagers.

Journalists on the ground have claimed to be unable to enter the village and surrounding area due to tight police control.

#Chinese police stopping all foreign journalists from getting anywhere near #Wukan We were ordered to leave Even nearby Lufeng is no go zone

Chinese authorities are blocking @TheJohnSudworth on @BBCWorld -- as he reports on the Wukan protests TVs go to black

As the growth of the country's economy requires ever more land, government land grabs that provide little in the way of compensation are common and are subject to regular public protests.

Vincent Yu / AP

But five years ago in Wukan — a village of 13,000 unknown even to many in China — a rumor about the police killing a child was followed by an actual suspicious death in police custody of a young village representative. The tensions were pushed so high that it resulted in the expulsion of a Communist Party official and the election of a full village committee to run the town's affairs. But since the 2014 election, the committee's control has been only nominal as the local party branch regained power over most decisions.

Beimeng Fu is a BuzzFeed News World Reporter covering China and is based in New York.

Contact Beimeng Fu at beimeng.fu@buzzfeed.com.

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