China protesters clash with police in Huzhou

Thousands of people have clashed with police and smashed cars in eastern China after protests over taxes turned violent, a rights group said Thursday, while authorities put the number in the hundreds.

Several police were hurt in the riots, which began as a protest by business owners over taxes in the eastern Chinese city of Huzhou in Zhejiang province, according to an official statement posted on a local government website.

Authorities said 600 people were involved in Wednesday's protests, but local witnesses, bloggers and a Hong Kong rights group put the number of protestors in the thousands and said there were large numbers of police on the streets.

"At least 100 cars have been smashed, including 10 police cars, and one armoured police car has been burned," the Hong Kong-based Information Centre for Human Rights and Democracy said in a statement.

Several people were wounded when the driver of a car tried to push through the crowd of protesters, it said.

Hong Kong television showed footage of protesters attacking a public security bus and bloggers reported that between three and eight people had been killed in the clashes, though this could not be confirmed by AFP.

A public security bureau official contacted by telephone in the city refused to comment. "The officers are all outside trying to control the situation," he told AFP before hanging up.

The Huzhou government news site said 28 people had been arrested over the riots and police used "heavy-handed measures" to quell the riots.

"Police... have used heavy-handed measures to severely strike at criminal suspects and provocateurs smashing and burning cars and bringing chaos to public," it said in a statement.

Local clothing factory workers reached by telephone told AFP the number of protestors was in the thousands, that cars had been destroyed, and that they remained afraid to go outside on Thursday.

"People and police officers are everywhere on the street. I heard the police have detained at least 1,000 people and if you walk outside, you may be beaten," one woman told AFP, declining to give her name.

The official statement said police had dispersed the crowds before midnight and the situation was under control. Several workers said production at factories in the town had been stopped.

Mass protests are not uncommon in China as disenfranchised people left behind by the country's economic boom take to the streets to air their grievances.

Last month, protesters in Zhejiang, also in eastern China, broke into a factory, ransacking offices and overturning vehicles after an Internet posting blamed the plant for local pollution.

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