A Chinese official who ordered security forces to open fire on protesters last week has been arrested, state media said, ending a news blackout on the clash but denying claims that scores were killed.
The official press put the death toll from last Tuesday's riot at three, far below local reports that as many as 30 people died in what would be the worst violence by Chinese security forces since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
Security forces were maintaining a tight cordon around the tense Dongzhou village near Shanwei city in the southern province of Guangdong yesterday.
Residents told AFP they worried about more arrests and said police were refusing to give back the bodies of those killed.
"I don't dare to tell you anything," said one. "The police are monitoring the phones in our village. They know all the calls coming in and out."
Details remained sketchy about the clash, in which hundreds of villagers hurled Molotov cocktails at paramilitary forces in a long-running dispute centered on land compensation for a coal-fired power plant.
Ending a four-day news blackout on Saturday, the state-run Xinhua news agency said hundreds of armed villagers had attacked security forces in a "serious violation of the law."
"It became dark when the chaotic mob began to throw explosives at the police," it said. "Police were forced to open fire in alarm. In the chaos, three villagers died, eight were injured, with three of them fatally injured."
The official Guangzhou Daily newspaper yesterday said that "the commanding officer on the scene mishandled the situation, causing accidental deaths and injuries" and added that the unnamed official had been arrested.
Liu Jingmao, deputy head of Shanwei's communication department, refused to provide AFP with further details, including the officer's name.
The state media reports contrasted with the villagers' version of events.
One resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that 30 people were killed, while The New York Times quoted residents as saying that "as many as 20" died.
The Xinhua report named three "instigators" and said they had organized an attack by more than 170 villagers armed with "knives, steel spears, sticks, dynamite powder, bottles filled with petroleum and fishing detonators."
Police had been forced to fire tear gas at the protesters and arrested two before being blockaded, when they opened fire in panic.
The report said government departments were investigating the deaths, but added that the "instigators" had been organising armed protests since June, using local anger over the new power plant as an "excuse."