Thousands of disgruntled former soldiers gather outside the government compound in Zhenjiang in east China. Photo: Twitter

Former People’s Liberation Army (PLA) servicemen were reportedly headed for Zhenjiang in the eastern province of Jiangsu after a protest demanding better welfare and retirement protection was quashed and petitioners allegedly pummeled by local thugs and police, according to Hong Kong media.

Newspapers in Hong Kong and Taiwan reported that angry retired soldiers from neighboring cities in the province had joined their comrades-in-arms in a protracted sit-in at the entrance to the Zhenjiang municipal government building.

Some veterans there were allegedly roughed up by a group of unidentified men, believed to be hired thugs, in the early hours of last Tuesday. Local authorities throughout China have often been accused of using this tactic to squash dissent.

A petitioner, still wearing his PLA uniform, leading a group of veterans to charge at a Police cordon line. Photo: Twitter

The incident resulted in more veterans joining the petition and it was reported that about 2,000 present and former servicemen were at the scene requesting a meeting with the mayor at the peak of the protest.

Local officials bought in about 10,000 police and a SWAT team to try to end the rally and the two sides became involved in a brawl, followed by arrests and the disappearance of a dozen veterans, according to Hong Kong’s Cable TV.

Those arrested were told they would only be allowed to leave once they agreed to sign a confession and promised not to take part in unlawful assemblies in the future, according to the TV station. Mobile phone signals at detention centers in the city were blocked, the station said.

The piazza in front of the municipal government compound had been cordoned off by local police.

Police guard the entrance to the government building in Zhenjiang. Photo: Twitter

Voice of America reported that after the police clearance operation, some veterans went to a major hospital in the city to visit the injured, but were stopped by police in a continued stand-off outside the hospital.

Chinese media and social networking platforms have been told to pull reports and posts about the Zhenjiang protests.

China has reportedly seen an alarming surge of demonstrations and sit-ins by disgruntled veterans in recent years, symbolized by a rare, ambush-like rally outside the headquarters of the Central Military Commission in Beijing in October 2016. Many retired and laid off soldiers from across the country said they wanted to fight for their lawful rights and allowances.

Beijing set up a new ministry to dole out welfare and employment aid to address the plight of many ex-servicemen in March, in a move seen to placate mounting discontent.

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