Reuters International

Lin Zuluan, talks to journalists after being elected as village chief in Wukan village, Guangdong province March 31, 2014. REUTERS/Alex Lee

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By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Authorities in southern China have detained the chief of a village that was once hailed as a model for grassroots democracy, accusing him of accepting bribes, while deploying hundreds of riot police to stave off potential trouble.

The coastal fishing village of Wukan in southern Guangdong province was the scene of a massive uprising in 2011, when people barricaded the area from security forces for several months to demand justice against corruption and land grabs.

The defiant civil movement drew international media attention and eventually persuaded provincial Communist Party leaders to sack the former village chief and allow elections, which a group of protest leaders won by a landslide.

In an open letter posted by the Lufeng city government late on Friday, however, it said Wukan's directly elected and popular village chief Lin Zuluan had been arrested for abusing his position to take bribes. There were no other details.

Lin couldn't be reached on his mobile phone.

A villager who declined to be identified said that outraged villagers tried to surround the local police station in protest.

Hundreds of riot police and other security personnel swarmed into the village, however, and several arrests were made.

"Everyone is very angry but we can't do much right now, there are police everywhere. It's very tense," the villager said.

The Lufeng city government, which has jurisdiction over Wukan, warned villagers in a public notice against taking any retaliatory action, and that authorities "would absolutely not use a soft hand" to deal with potential unrest.

The Lufeng government couldn't be immediately reached for comment.

Pictures posted by villagers showed battalions of police with shields and helmets blocking roads in the village.

Days earlier, village chief Lin wrote an open letter pledging to launch a fresh mass protest to demand justice for illegal land sales and unauthorised construction on village land -- issues that have festered since 2011.

"They are all liars who say one thing and do another. They are incompetent to be officials and should be kicked off," read a public notice in Wukan calling for action against the land grabs, that was posted online. "We cannot trust them anymore. We shall solve the problems ourselves."

Several prominent villagers have also been taken into police custody, according to village sources.

Many of the village's democratically elected governing committee from 2012 has now been forced from office, with some of the corrupt old guard reinstated to their former positions.

(Additional reporting by Lindsy Long; Editing by Kim Coghill)

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