Protests in Shanghai and Beijing as anger over China’s COVID restrictions mounts

SHANGHAI/BEIJING, Nov 27 (Reuters) – Protests in China over heavy COVID-19 restrictions spread to Shanghai on Sunday, with protesters also gathering at one of Beijing’s most prestigious universities after a fire murderer in the far west of the country sparked widespread anger.

The wave of civil disobedience, which has included protests in Urumqi where the fire occurred as well as elsewhere in Beijing and other cities, has reached levels not seen in mainland China since Xi Jinping took over. power ten years ago.

In Shanghai, China’s most populous city, residents gathered Saturday evening on Wulumuqi Road – named after Urumqi – for a candlelight vigil that turned into a protest on Sunday morning.

As a large group of police looked on, the crowd held back blank sheets of paper – a symbol of protest against censorship. Later, they shouted, “Remove the lockdown for Urumqi, lift the lockdown for Xinjiang, lift the lockdown for all of China!” “, according to a video posted on social networks.

At another point, a large group began shouting “Down with the Chinese Communist Party, down with Xi Jinping”, according to witnesses and videos, in a rare public demonstration against the country’s rulers.

The police sometimes tried to disperse the crowd.

On the campus of Tsinghua University in Beijing, a large crowd gathered, according to images and videos posted on social media. Some people were also holding blank sheets of paper.

Thursday’s fire that killed 10 people in a high-rise building in Urumqi, capital of the Xinjiang region, saw crowds take to the streets on Friday evening, chanting “End lockdown!” and raising his fists in the air, according to videos on social media.

Many netizens speculated that residents were unable to escape in time because the building was partially locked, which city officials denied. In Urumqi, a city of 4 million people, some people have been locked up for 100 days.

ZERO-COVID

China has stuck to Xi’s zero COVID policy even as much of the world tries to coexist with the coronavirus. Although low by global standards, cases in China have been at record highs for days, with nearly 40,000 new infections on Saturday.

China defends the policy as life-saving and necessary to avoid overwhelming the health system. Officials have vowed to continue despite growing public resistance and its growing impact on the world’s second-largest economy.

Widespread public protests are extremely rare in China, where room for dissent has been all but eliminated under Xi, forcing citizens to vent primarily on social media, where they play cat and mouse with censors.

Frustration is mounting just over a month after Xi secured a third term as leader of the Communist Party of China.

“It will put serious pressure on the party to respond. Chances are that one response will be repression, and they will arrest and prosecute some protesters,” said Dan Mattingly, assistant professor of political science at the Yale University.

Still, he said, the unrest is a far cry from that seen in 1989, when protests culminated in the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square. He added that as long as Xi had the Chinese elite and military on his side, he would face no significant risk to his grip on power.

Over the weekend, Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Ma Xingrui called on the region to strengthen security maintenance and curb the “illegal violent rejection of COVID prevention measures”.

Xinjiang officials also said public transportation services would gradually resume from Monday in Urumqi.

“WE DON’T WANT HEALTH CODES”

Other towns that have seen public dissent include Lanzhou in the northwest, where residents toppled COVID staff tents and destroyed testing booths on Saturday, social media posts showed. Protesters said they were placed in lockdown even though no one tested positive.

Candlelight vigils for victims in Urumqi have been held at universities in cities including Nanjing and Beijing.

Videos from Shanghai showed crowds facing police and chanting “Serve the people”, “We want freedom” and “We don’t want health codes”, a reference to mobile phone apps that must be scanned to entering public places across China.

The Shanghai government did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Sunday.

The city’s 25 million people were placed under lockdown for two months earlier this year, sparking anger and protests.

Chinese authorities have since sought to be more targeted in their COVID curbs, an effort that has been called into question by soaring infections as the country faces its first winter with the highly transmissible variant of Omicron.

On Saturday in Beijing, some confined residents managed to confront and pressure local authorities to lift curbs sooner than expected.

Video shared with Reuters on Saturday showed Beijing residents marching through an unidentifiable part of the capital, shouting “End lockdown!”

The Beijing government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard, Yew Lun Tian, ​​Eduardo Baptista and Liz Lee in Beijing and Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Shanghai Newsroom; Written by Tony Munroe; Editing by William Mallard, Kim Coghill and Edwina Gibbs

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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