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Hundreds of police took down a church's cross in eastern China early Monday amid a crackdown on church buildings in a coastal region where thousands of people are embracing Christianity.

Evangelist Qu Linuo, who belongs to another church, said hundreds of police showed up Monday at the Longgang Huai En Church in the city of Wenzhou and used a crane to remove the cross from its steeple. Qu said he and about 200 others had flocked to the church a few hours earlier to protect the church but peacefully made way for the police.

Qu said authorities told the church the cross violated building height limits. A man at Cangnan county's public security office said he didn't know anything about the incident. The Longgang township police didn't answer phone calls.

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Across Zhejiang province, where Wenzhou sits, authorities have toppled or threatened to topple crosses at more than 130 Protestant churches. In a few cases, the government has even razed sanctuaries.

Officials have said they're only enforcing building codes, although often they won't specify which ones. Church groups, however, say the government is targeting the fast-growing religion, which by official estimates has 23 million believers in China. The Pew Research Center estimated 58 million Protestants in the country practiced the religion in 2011, along with 9 million Catholics the year before.

Last week, parishioners at another church in Wenzhou successfully protected their cross from hundreds of police, said Zheng Changye, a 36-year-old member of another church who said he had rushed over to the scene. He said three people suffered serious injuries in the clash with police, and photos posted online showed several people bleeding from head injuries.

On Monday, other photos posted on the China social media site Weibo showed parishioners at the Longgang Huai En Church praying on its steps and holding banners reading "Anti-graft, anti-corruption, protect religion."

Qu said authorities afterward returned the roughly 10-foot-tall, red cross to parishioners, who wept and prayed around it.

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