Five suspects have been detained by authorities in Central China after six individuals infected with HIV were hired to harass residents into leaving their homes to make way for new construction projects.

The incident, which took place in the Henan province, sparked anger and debate among China's Internet users on Tuesday highlighting continued widespread discrimination in the country against those living with HIV and AIDS.

Li Gejun, deputy head of the propaganda office in Wolong, a district of Nanyang, told CCTV that the Yi'an Real Estate Company hired the patients "in order to achieve its goal of speedy demolition".

Footage by the broadcaster showed the words "AIDS demolition team" spray-painted in red on many of the compound's walls.

The team of HIV-infected individuals set off firecrackers, harassed residents and shot their windows with slingshots and ball bearings , according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

The demolition team also brandished their AIDS identity cards in an attempt to intimidate residents.

'Obscene tactics'

The case underscores the lengths at which particular real estate firms and officials are going to evict residents in a region where reselling land provides big dividends for local governments.

"The obscene tactics of demolition teams emerge in innumerable succession," one user of Sina Weibo, a Chinese version of Twitter wrote.

Forced demolition is a continuing source of discontent in China, where local governments can often earn staggering revenue by evicting people, clearing land and then reselling it to developers.

The incident comes in the wake of reports earlier this month that Chinese villagers had targeted an HIV-positive eight-year-old boy for expulsion, which brought widespread condemnation.

Discrimination against those who have AIDS remains a an issue within Chinese society with individuals facing harsh social stigma at school and within the workplace which, experts say, has hampered efforts to diagnose and treat the disease.

Individuals implicated in the incident are from the Henan province which which in the 1990s was hit by a debilitating AIDS epidemic that stemmed from a tainted government-backed blood donation programme and infected tens of thousands of people.

Source: Agencies