Protests gather steam across China


Taking to the streets: A screencap from a video showing people protesting against Covid-19 measures in Urumqi city. — Reuters

Beijing: Angry crowds took to the streets in Shanghai and videos on social media showed protests in other cities across China, as public opposition to the government’s hardline zero-Covid policy mounts.

A deadly fire on Thursday in Urumqi, the capital of northwest China’s Xinjiang region, has spurred an outpouring of anger as many social media users blamed lengthy Covid-19 lockdowns for hampering rescue efforts.

China is the last major economy wedded to a zero-Covid strategy, with authorities wielding snap lockdowns, lengthy quarantines and mass testing to snuff out new outbreaks as they emerge.

In a video widely shared on social media and geolocated by AFP, some protesters can be heard chanting “Xi Jinping, step down! CCP, step down!” in central Shanghai’s Wulumuqi street – named for Urumqi in Mandarin – in a rare display of public opposition to China’s top leadership.

A person who attended the Shanghai protests but asked not to be identified said they arrived at the rally at 2am to see one group of people putting flowers on the sidewalk to mourn the 10 people killed in the fire, while another group chanted slogans.

Video taken by an eyewitness showed a large crowd shouting and holding up blank white pieces of paper – a symbolic protest against censorship – as they faced several lines of police.

The attendee said there were minor clashes but that overall the police were “civilised”.

“It’s touching to see so many like-minded and humane people uniting together,” they said.

“It’s shocking to know that, under today’s circumstances, there are still many brave people standing out.”

Multiple witnesses said a couple of people were taken away by the police.

Authorities were swift to curb online discussion of the protest, with related phrases scrubbed from the Twitter-like Weibo platform almost immediately after footage of the rallies emerged.

The area was quiet by daytime yesterday but a heavy security presence was visible.

A journalist saw some people holding flowers being approached by police before leaving.

Other vigils took place overnight at universities across China, including one at the elite Peking University, an undergraduate participant said. — AFP

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