'Tight security'

"The area around the hotel is still cordoned off by hundreds of police with batons ... security remains tight"

Chen, local resident

Chen, a local resident, said protesters began to gather outside the hotel on Friday and by late Saturday had clashed five or six times with police.

"The area around the hotel is still cordoned off by hundreds of police with batons ... security remains tight,'' Chen said in a telephone interview on Sunday.

According to a Shishou government official, the crowd dispersed after local authorities persuaded them to leave and that there had been no conflicts since Saturday afternoon.

The official, who declined to give his name, said authorities were investigating the death of Tu, whose body was moved from the hotel to a funeral parlour on Sunday.

The Chinese media reported that police ruled out murder, saying they found a suicide note.

Citizen journalism

Amateur video clips of the protest posted online showed hundreds of riot police marching down a street to reinforce a human barricade formed by officers who held their shields above their heads, supported by police vans and fire engines.

In one clip, hundreds of protesters were seen surging towards police, picking up objects from the ground and hurling them at the officers, who retreated.

Discontent with local officials and police in China often leads to mass protests, which can gather size and force with remarkable speed.