Chinese authorities violently stopped a peaceful protest by bank depositors who were demanding their life savings back from banks that are experiencing a worsening cash crisis.

More than 1,000 depositors in China gathered in front of the People’s Bank of China building in the city of Zhengzhou in Henan province as early as 4 a.m. on Sunday.

The protesters are among the customers who opened accounts at six rural banks in Henan and Anhui province that previously offered higher interest rates. The customers were left fighting for their money back after the CEO of the bank’s parent firm was reported wanted for financial crimes in April. 

“Henan banks, return my savings!” the protesters shouted in unison

There were reportedly hundreds of police and security personnel who surrounded the site. The police told the demonstrators that they would be arrested and fined if they did not disperse from their unlawful assembly.

Security officers charged up the stairs and attacked the protesters after 11 a.m. They reportedly threw bottles and small objects at the protesters, causing the scene to result in chaos. 

Protesters were dragged down the stairs and those who resisted were beaten by security officers, according to witnesses.

“Why would government employees beat us up? We’re only ordinary people asking for our deposits back, we did nothing wrong,” a woman from eastern Shandong province, who was allegedly pushed to the ground by two security guards, told CNN.

“We came today and wanted to get our savings back, because I have elderly people and children at home, and the inability to withdraw savings has seriously affected my life,” a woman surnamed Zhang told CNBC.

The protesters were taken to detention sites across the city. They were forced to sign a letter stating they would not gather anymore, according to Zhang.

The Henan banking regulators posted a statement on their website, claiming that authorities are speeding up efforts to verify information on customer funds at the four rural banks.

“(Authorities) are coming up with a plan to deal with the issue, which will be announced in the near future,” the statement reportedly read.

“The incident completely overturned my perception of the government,” a man identified as Sun told CNN. 

Sun reportedly lost his deposit of 4 million yuan (approximately $596,000) to a Henan bank. He is currently struggling to keep his machine factory from falling into bankruptcy.

“I’ve lived all my life placing so much faith in the government. After today, I’ll never trust it again,” Sun added.

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