Millions protest as China's controversial Yulin Dog Meat Festival begins
Millions of people have signed an online petition calling for an end to China's controversial annual Yulin Dog Meal Festival, which begins today.
Animal rights campaigners and staunch dog meat supporters have already clashed as the region prepares for the event.
Each year, thousands of dogs are slaughtered during the festival, which marks the peak of summer in the town of Yulin, in Guangxi province.
But animal rights campaigners have highlighted what they say are cruel transportation methods and torture, with animals beaten and skinned alive before being cooked.
A change.org petition, calling for an end to the "inhumane" tradition, has attracted more than 3.8 million signatures to date, with the Humane Society International and TV star Ricky Gervais leading the charge in raising awareness.
The hashtag #StopYulin2015 has become the campaign's signature line.
Those who support the event claim it is no different to eating pigs or chickens - but it is the practices used to kill the animals which has angered many.
The Humane Society International says rogue dog meat traders are known to steal family pets to kill and sell for meat, with dogs and cats packed into tiny cages as they are transported long distances to meet their brutal fate.
Last year, they added, thanks to "overwhelming" international pressure, the authorities in Yulin withdrew their support for the festival.
But the charity now wants to see the tradition stamped out altogether.
Among those on the ground in Yulin is campaigner Yang Xiaoyun, who last year spent 150,000 yuan (£15,200) buying around 350 dogs from meat traders to save them from the chopping block.
This year, she has vowed to do the same - her pockets filled with extra cash donated by concerned animal lovers from around the country.
She was at the town's main market place yesterday (Sunday), but was chased out empty-handed by angry dog meat supporters.