Several women were sexually assaulted on Thursday during festivities to mark a local water festival in the island province of Hainan, according to eyewitnesses.
Around 8:30 am, several men tried to touch some women's breasts, tearing their clothes during celebrations in Qixian Square, Baoting Li and Miao autonomous county, a website run by Xinhua News Agency reported.
Li Min, a tourist from Wanning in Hainan who has participated in the festival for the past five years, told China Daily that four or five women were assaulted after an opening ceremony, and the attackers were taken away by police.
"There were more than 1,000 people on the square playing with water at that time, and most of them were very young," he said, adding that he was standing on the second floor of a building overlooking the square.
"I saw a man take off a young woman's clothes, while similar situations also happened to four or five other women who were playing with water in different areas of the square at the same time.
"Later, police came to restore order, taking the men out of the square," Li said, adding that he couldn't tell how many men were taken into custody.
Huang Dingyi, from Haikou, capital of Hainan, who also witnessed the incident, said he saw a woman being molested by a man wearing a hat and a red scarf.
"The woman slipped when she was attacked by the man and she hit the attacker with a water pot," he said. "The police rushed to stop the disorder from a house on the square and seized the man, who was in his 20s."
On Thursday afternoon, media and netizens published photos of the festival celebrations on micro blogs.
A publicity officer for the county, who did not want to be identified, confirmed the incidents but said only one teenage girl had been sexually assaulted.
Some witnesses might have been mistaken about what they saw, according to the officer.
"It might be the carelessness of the girl wearing a vest playing with the water," he said, adding the real situation was not as serious as netizens described.
In addition, Wang Xiumei, head of the county's publicity department, said the public security bureau has been investigating the case and trying to determine how many women were attacked.
"We are paying attention to the case and will disclose the number and newest information as soon as possible," she added.
On the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar, China's traditional day for lovers, Li and Miao ethnic groups offer water sacrifices, which has led to locals organizing a festival to attract tourists and residents to play with water.