Six local security officials allegedly involved in the brutal killing of a roadside fruit vendor in southern China have been detained, state media said, as outrage over power abuses mounted.

Deng Zhengjia, a 56-year-old watermelon street vendor, died after so-called urban law enforcers beat him after a row over his fruit stall in a riverside in Chenzhou city, Hunan province.

The dispute reportedly erupted last Wednesday after urban security personnel, known as ‘chengguan’, asked Deng to sell his watermelons in an “authorized location,” reports the BBC.

A clash with the officers ensued when Deng “suddenly collapsed and died,” according to Xinhua news agency.

Witnesses said the chengguan beat Deng to the ground and smashed his head with a weight from his hand-held scale.

Initial police investigation rebuked claims Deng was hit in the head, saying a postmortem was still being conducted.

Images posted online showing Deng lying motionless on the pavement sparked outcry among citizens who have long accused the chengguan of abusing their powers to target street vendors.

When police attempted to forcibly remove Deng’s body, a crowd violently fought back.

They “have earned a reputation for brutality and impunity… They are now synonymous for many Chinese citizens with physical violence, illegal detention, and theft,” a spokesman for advocacy group Human Rights Watch said.