Six Chinese local government employees involved in a dispute that saw a roadside watermelon seller die have been detained, state media reported Friday as outrage over power abuses mounted.

Deng Zhengjia, 56, was beaten to death Wednesday by local regulation enforcers known as 'chengguan' for selling watermelons at a street stall without a licence, Chinese media reported previously.

The officials in Linwu county, in the central province of Hunan, kicked and punched Deng and one used a metal measuring weight to smash his head, the reports said, citing his wife.

He had recently moved his stall in accordance with instructions from chengguan and paid 100 yuan ($16) in fines, she said.

The county government held a press conference Thursday, said the Beijing News, after the news sparked an outpouring of online anger.

Six chengguan "involved in the matter" had been taken into police custody, county officials said, according to the report.

They said preliminary investigations showed the enforcers did not smash Deng's head with the weight and a postmortem was being conducted.

A news portal linked to the county government said he suddenly fell to the ground and died during a row.

Authorities denied reports police forcibly removed the body from the scene, saying it was taken away following a request by his relatives and out of "respect for the death".

Chengguan, who are tasked with enforcing non-criminal regulations in towns and cities, have long been accused of abusing their powers, with street vendors a common target of violence.

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 spokeswoman for advocacy group Human Rights Watch said last year.

Chinese Internet users poured scorn on the officials' accounts, with one describing them as "shameless liars", and the county government's website was hacked on Friday.

"To the county chief who (ordered) the snatch of the body: the wages of sin are death," read a message on the site, according to a screen grab by the semi-official China News Service.

The website was inaccessible Friday afternoon.

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