Some witnesses quoted earlier in Chinese online forums and by foreign news agencies said that up to 20,000 people took part in the riots.

 

Fines and confiscation

 

In its reports on the protests, Xinhua said several rioters had "verbally abused and attacked government workers and civil police."

 

"In some cases, the county government office's main gate, its walls, office equipment, documents and archives were damaged.  

 

The Xinhua report said the protest was triggered by anger over fines that villagers said were imposed "arbitrarily and brutally" as part of efforts to control population growth in the area.

 

The local government reportedly tried to collect fines of more than $1,300 from families that had too many children under what has become known as China's one-child policy.

 

Those who could not pay - in an area where average annual income is $130 - had their possessions confiscated or destroyed.

 

One-child policy

 

China's one-child policy is meant to keep the population – the world's biggest at 1.3 billion - to a size the government believes is sustainable.

 

But the policy, in place sine the 1970s, has been controversial, with frequent reports of abuse including forced late-term abortions and forced sterilisations, as well as arbitrary fines.

 

In some provinces and regions, such as Guangxi, there are concessions to the policy with families allowed a second child if the first one is a girl although no one is allowed more than two children.

 

The weekend's protests were the latest in a growing number of violent incidents across China as ordinary Chinese vent anger over official corruption, a growing rich-poor gap and land confiscations.

 

According to the official figures there were 87,000 protests, officially termed "mass incidents", reported in 2005, up 6.6 per cent from 2004 and 50 per cent from 2003.