China has arrested the popular head of a village who won a rare open election in 2012 following a standoff with the ruling Communist Party, a move that has already prompted street protests in the man's defense.

Thursday's legal action against Lin Zuluan comes one month after he was detained on charges of taking kickbacks on government contracts and places him on track to go to trial where a conviction is all but assured.

Lin's detention last month came just before he planned to lead protests against land grabs by local developers, and touched off days of demonstrations in Wukan village, where many residents maintain his innocence.

The fishing village of 13,000 on the South China Sea coast became internationally known in 2011 when its residents openly revolted and won unusual permission from the Communist Party to hold an open election that elevated Lin, a protest leader, to village party secretary the following spring.

A brief statement from on the website of the city government of Shanwei that has jurisdiction over Wukan said only that he had been arrested on bribery charges and that the investigation would proceed.

Following his detention last month, Chinese authorities broadcast a statement in which Lin said he had taken kickbacks. That was the latest in a series of televised purported confessions by people accused of wrongdoing that the party apparently believes will win public support, but which have received widespread condemnation from human rights groups.

Instead of lowering tensions, Lin's statement appeared to harden the community's longstanding distrust of the government. Thousands of Lin's supporters marched to a local government office with a banner bearing their signatures and fingerprints seeking his release in spite of government notices warning against further protests.

While prosecutors have pushed ahead with charges against Lin, municipal officials administering the village have sought to defuse the situation by pledging to investigate residents' complaints of illegal land seizures.