HomeWorldShanghai protesters, police jostle as anger over China's COVID curbs mounts

Shanghai protesters, police jostle as anger over China’s COVID curbs mounts

  • Wave of civil disobedience, unprecedented under President Xi
  • Increasing frustration with Xi’s zero-COVID policy
  • A fire in an apartment in Urumqi killed 10 people last Thursday
  • Vigils turn into protests in cities like Beijing, Shanghai
  • Prestigious university students in Beijing protest

SHANGHAI/BEIJING, Nov 27 (Reuters) – Hundreds of protesters in Shanghai shouted and thronged with police on Sunday night as protests against China’s strict COVID restrictions flared for a third day following a deadly apartment fire in the country’s far west.

The wave of civil disobedience that has spread to other cities, including Beijing, is unprecedented in mainland China since President Xi Jinping came to power a decade ago and comes amid growing frustration over his trademark zero-COVID policy .

China has lived with some of the strictest COVID curbs in the world for nearly three years.

The fire at a high-rise residential building in Urumqi city sparked protests after videos of the incident were posted on social media and led to accusations that lockdown was a factor in the death toll.

Urumqi officials abruptly held a press conference in the early hours of Saturday to deny that COVID measures had hindered escape and rescue. Many of Urumqi’s 4 million residents have endured one of the country’s longest lockdowns, not allowed to leave their homes for up to 100 days.

On Sunday, police in Shanghai had a heavy presence on Wulumuqi Road, which is named after Urumqi, and where a candlelight vigil the day before turned into protests.

By evening, hundreds of people gathered in the area.

Some crowded with the police to disperse them. People held up blank sheets of paper in protest.

A Reuters witness saw at least seven people being taken away by police.

“We just want our basic human rights. We can’t leave our homes without undergoing a test. It was the accident in Xinjiang that pushed people too far,” said a 26-year-old protester who declined to be identified given the sensitivity of the matter .

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“The people here are not violent, but the police arrest them for no reason. They tried to grab me, but the people around me grabbed me so hard and pulled me back so that I could escape.”

Another protester, Shaun Xiao, said: “I’m here because I love my country, but I don’t like my government… I want to go out freely, but I can’t. Our COVID-19 policy is a game and is not based on science or reality.”

On Saturday, the vigil in Shanghai for victims of the apartment fire turned into a protest against COVID curbs, with the crowd clamoring for the lockdowns to be lifted. A large group sang

“Down with the Chinese Communist Party, down with Xi Jinping,” according to witnesses and videos on social media, in a rare public protest against the country’s leadership.

URUMQI, BEIJING, WUHAN

On Sunday, dozens of people at Beijing’s prestigious Tsinghua University staged a peaceful protest against COVID restrictions, singing the national anthem, images and videos posted to social media show.

A student who saw the Tsinghua protest described to Reuters that he was surprised by the protest at one of China’s most elite universities and Xi’s alma mater.

“The people there were very passionate, the sight of it was impressive,” said the student, who declined to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.

In the central city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began three years ago, hundreds of residents took to the streets on Sunday, smashing through metal barricades, toppling COVID test tents and demanding an end to lockdowns, according to social media videos that could not be independently verified. become.

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Thursday’s fire that killed 10 people at an apartment building in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region, saw crowds take to the streets there on Friday evening, chanting, “End the lockdown!” and pumping their fists in the air, according to unverified social media videos.

ZERO COVID

China is sticking to Xi’s zero-COVID policy even as much of the world has lifted most restrictions. While 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 lifesaving and necessary to avoid overburdening the healthcare system. Officials have vowed to continue with it despite the growing public downturn and mounting economic toll.

China’s economy suffered a broad slowdown in October as factory production grew slower than expected and retail sales fell for the first time in five months, underscoring faltering domestic and international demand.

Adding to a string of weak data in recent days, China reported on Sunday that industrial companies saw aggregate profits fall further in the January-October period, with 22 of China’s 41 major industrial sectors showing declines.

The world’s second-largest economy is also facing other setbacks, including the risk of a global recession and a downturn in real estate.

RARE PROTESTS

Widespread public protest is extremely rare in China, where space for dissent has all but been eliminated under Xi, forcing citizens to express themselves primarily on social media, where they play cat-and-mouse with censorship.

Frustration boils just over a month after Xi secured a third term at the head of the Chinese Communist Party.

“This will put serious pressure on the party to respond. There’s a good chance that one of the responses will be repression, and they’ll arrest and prosecute some protesters,” said Dan Mattingly, an assistant professor of political science at Yale. University.

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Still, he said, the unrest is far from that of 1989, when the protests culminated in the bloody crackdown on Tiananmen Square. He added that as long as Xi had the Chinese elite and military on his side, he would not run any significant risk to his grip on power.

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

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

Other cities that have seen public discord include Lanzhou in the northwest, where residents toppled COVID staff tents and vandalized testing booths on Saturday, social media reports showed. Protesters said they were under lockdown, even though no one had tested positive.

Candlelight vigils for the Urumqi victims also took place at universities in Nanjing and Beijing.

Since Shanghai’s 25 million residents went into lockdown for two months at the beginning of this year, Chinese authorities have sought to be more focused in their COVID sidewalks, an effort that has been challenged by the rise in infections as the country enters its first winter with the highly transferable Omicron variant.

Reporting by Martin Quin Pollard, Yew Lun Tian, ​​Eduardo Baptista and Liz Lee in Beijing and by Brenda Goh, Josh Horwitz, David Stanway, Casey Hall and Engen Tham in Shanghai and the Shanghai Newsroom; Written by Tony Munroe; Edited by William Mallard, Kim Coghill, Edwina Gibbs and Raissa Kasolowsky

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Principles of Trust.

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