SHANGHAI - Chinese police have detained six security officials involved in a spat that led to the death of a watermelon vendor and sparked online fury over perceived abuses of power by city patrols.
The six men were suspected of causing "intentional injury", the official Xinhua news agency said on Saturday, quoting unidentified sources in the south-central province of Hunan.
The rapid action by authorities could help defuse growing public anger after the vendor, Deng Zhengjia, 56, died following the fight with the security officials on Wednesday morning.
Deng and his wife had been trying to sell watermelons at a scenic spot by a river where such activity was apparently banned, Xinhua quoted the vendor's niece as saying.
The security men, members of the 'chengguan', which works with police to help enforce minor city rules and regulations, are derided by many Chinese as thuggish. Rights groups say they are poorly trained and supervised.
The Chinese government is obsessed with stability and has shown growing sensitivity to public criticism.
The case set off a torrent of criticism on China's popular Sina Weibo microblogging site, and after the detentions there was still scepticism.
"Now we need to see the result. These people are used to fighting with commoners," posted one user, using the online name, "Natural Ruby".
"I hope they aren't just putting on a show for the media,"said another.
The poor reputation of the security patrols has been further tarnished by several widely-reported cases in which vendors or others were beaten, had goods confiscated, or were illegally detained or evicted.
According to a witness, Deng, a farmer, was struck with weights from a set of scales, Xinhua quoted the niece as saying. His wife was also injured in the violence.
On Thursday, however, the Linwu County government in Hunan said a preliminary probe showed none of the 'chengguan' officers had struck Deng with the metal weight.