SHANGHAI Crowds that clashed with paramilitary police in a small town in central China on Saturday have dispersed, leaving police in control, local residents and state media said on Sunday.
Unusually, the protestors in Shishou, Hubei province, appear to have included local government employees, showing the depth of dissatisfaction in the city of 620,000.
Crowds set fire to the Yonglong Hotel on Friday night after the death of 24-year-old chef Tu Yuangao. The man's family had refused to accept the hotel management's explanation that Tu had committed suicide by jumping out a window.
By Saturday, the confrontation had escalated into one of the most serious "mass incidents" in China since the alleged rape of a teenage girl found dead in Weng'an, Guizhou province, sparked riots last year involving 30,000 angry locals.
Videos of the confrontation posted on Youtube show thousands of paramilitary police marching with riot shields over their heads, then beating a hasty retreat as the crowd pelted them with stones and other objects.
"If you have any problems, please bring them to the attention of the relevant authorities. They will research it and get back to you," a man's hoarse voice could be heard shouting through a bullhorn.
The video could not be independently verified.
Some police were injured on Saturday after the crowd armed themselves with beer bottles and bricks, a local resident surnamed Chen said. The police responded with water cannons, he said.
Government officials approached the crowd on Saturday evening, asking their staff to return home. In a sign of the seriousness of the incident, provincial Communist Party officials rushed to the scene.
Police were able to retake the streets and the remains of the hotel just before dawn on Sunday morning, the official Xinhua news agency said. Xinhua said the crowd "remained to watch the police campaign, rather than protest".
Shishou residents were told the police had been called in to suppress gangsters and members of the banned Falun Gong spiritual group, Chen said.
On Sunday, the Shishou government website was inaccessible.