Hundreds of people clashed with security forces in the North Korean town of Sinuiju on the border with China on Friday, a source in the Stalinist country said Wednesday.
The military was deployed to quell the demonstration, leaving some protesters wounded.
The source said police officers cracking down on traders in a market in Sinuiju after the public holidays marking leader Kim Jong-il's birthday beat one of them unconscious. The victim's family protested and many other traders went along to support them.
When it looked as though other people might join the traders, security agents and military troops moved in. Rumor has it that four or five people were killed in the resulting clashes, but no details of civilian casualties are known.
The security forces were reportedly on emergency alert in the area after the incident. A defector from Sinuiju said, "Since Feb. 15, I've had difficulties communicating with my contact in Sinuiju. I called him at a pre-arranged time but his mobile phone was turned off."
The source said while the protest was sparked by the crackdown in the market, it was an eruption of long pent-up discontent.
The regime had promised to dole out special rations to Sinuiju residents ahead of Kim's birthday on Feb. 16 but reportedly failed to keep the promise. People were also angry that the regime was once again trying to interfere with their attempts to earn a living in the market.
Meanwhile, the online newspaper Daily NK reported on Wednesday that the regime created a special mobilization force to prevent any demonstrations similar to the recent uprisings in the Middle East.