Rumors of plans to build a crematorium triggered a violent protest in southern China this week, with protesters tossing gasoline bombs, according to local authorities.
Such scenes are seldom seen in China, where authorities tightly control information and swiftly quell demonstrations, but the incident comes weeks after riot police reportedly used tear gas on angry demonstrators in the same region.
The fresh protests happened on Monday in Boyang town in southwestern Guangdong province, where police said “criminals threw petrol bombs and conducted the illegal offence of smashing and deliberately hurting national staff.”
In a statement, police said the city’s public security bureau was investigating and urged those involved with spreading the rumours to turn themselves in.
The clashes come just weeks after reports of riot police being called out to break up angry protests in the neighbouring town of Wenlou, around 27 kilometers from Boyang.
The plan to build the crematorium in Wenlou was eventually withdrawn by the government, which said it would “crack down on and severely punish” any illegal activity that disrupted “public order.”
The fresh unrest in nearby Boyang appears to have been sparked by rumors that the crematorium would now be built there instead.
In a statement posted on Monday, the government rejected those rumours, saying false information was spread on the WeChat messaging app.
The local government said the construction was actually for a water purification project.
The Boyang unrest comes as a tense Beijing grapples with controlling anti-government demonstrators in semi-autonomous Hong Kong, which has been rocked by six months of pro-democracy protests.
But in mainland China, a tightly-controlled Internet and crackdown on civil society mean most protests are blocked on social media platforms.
“It is important to remember that there are lots of grievances against the government everywhere in China, and the reason we don’t hear about them is due to the increasing strength of China’s Internal security apparatus, which has a budget bigger than that of the Chinese military,” said Maya Wang, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.
In July, authorities in the central city of Wuhan sent riot police to stop protests by thousands of citizens against the construction of a waste incinerator.