Italian police clashed with protesters early Tuesday as officers prepared to bulldoze the proposed construction site for a high-speed rail link in the Alpine Susa valley, which is scheduled to host Winter Olympic events in February.

Hundreds of police officers descended at dawn on the site in the Susa valley where construction of a high-speed rail link between Italy and France has been delayed due to the opposition of residents.

Police say they met resistance from protesters who have been camping out at the site near the village of Venaus. Some 200 protesters refused to move and scuffles broke out with the police.

Around 20 people, including five police officers, were taken to the hospital to be treated for minor injuries. The government later denied that police were too rough with the protesters.

Police used a bulldozer to clear the site, including barriers erected by the protesters, and fenced off the area. But the situation in the valley remains very tense.

Leaders of the protest accused police of using undue force. The president of the mountain community, Antonio Ferrentino, who heads the protest with the other mayors of the region, said citizens should not be assaulted by the police in the middle of the night while they are sleeping.

"We are here with all the residents and mayors to say the public works in this country, like in no other European country, can be done with the use of force," he said. "There must be dialogue to obtain the support of the population.

Solidarity with the residents of the valley is growing with many voicing their indignation at the use of force by police. After the clashes, the leaders of the protest called for a general strike in the region.

Factories, shops and schools closed down. Protesters occupied key roads and rail links, cutting off the valley. They say the rail link will ruin the area and that drilling the 53-km tunnel will release potentially harmful material such as asbestos and uranium.

But supporters of the project say the line will cut pollution by reducing the amount of goods transported by road. Transport Minister Pietro Lunardi said the valley must resign itself to the new rail link between Italy and France because it will go ahead.

The center-left opposition said the use of force was incomprehensible and unacceptable and called on the government to address parliament on the serious incidents in the Susa valley.