Beijing (CNN) -- Thousands of residents gathered in Wukan village in southern China on Friday morning to mourn the loss of a fellow villager who died under police custody amid protest over land seizures.
Residents and family members remembered 42-year-old Xue Jinbo in a peaceful ceremony on Friday. They say Xue was beaten to death while in police custody last weekend and demand the government to return his body for investigation into the cause of death.
"We will always remember what a great guy he was," said a local farmer who gave only his surname, Huang, for fear of being identified. "The government has refused to give the body back because they know we'll find out that there was foul play. "
More than 10,000 residents of the fishing village in Guangdong province claim land has been seized illegally and then sold by the local government to developers for the past decade.
News of one recent sale of nearly 1,000 acres of land to developers prompted protests by villagers who say they have not received any compensation and rely on the land for their livelihood.
"All we want is our land back so we can support our families," Huang said. "It's unclear what will happen next but we have nothing to lose now."
Villagers this week drove out government officials and set up obstacles to prevent the police from entering the village.
"We are just on the lookout now in case police storm in to arrest or detain us," said Hong Runqing, a farmer who lives in the village. "Since the government cut off our food supplies...a few people came into our village offering us food and a petition to sign, but we don't trust anyone at this point."
Hong says the village plans to gather to mourn Xue's death this afternoon for the fifth day and will continue into the evening. Villagers still suspect that Xue was beaten to death, but state media reported that he died of natural causes.
Xue was suspected of leading hundreds of villagers in protests over issues of land use, money and local elections in September that led to two days of rioting, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.
His death was caused by cardiac failure and no apparent signs of assault were found on his body, the news agency quoted an investigator with the Guangdong Provincial Procuratorate as telling reporters.
The Shanwei city government, which administers the area, said in a statement last week that it had settled some of the complaints that led to the riots, Xinhua reported, and that two local officials had been fired.
The local government has so far not responded to a request for comment from CNN.
China has since censored searches for "Wukan" in online micro-blogs and other Twitter-like feeds to prevent the spread of information about the unrest. Searches on Sina Weibo for "Wukan" only result with the message, "according to relevant laws and regulations, results for Wukan cannot be displayed."
Disputes over land use in rural areas of China have increased as discontent has grown over local corruption and environmental issues.