Zero-Covid policies under attack

BEIJING: Fresh clashes have broken out between police and protesters in a southern Chinese city, part of a wave of Covid lockdown-sparked demonstrations across the country that have morphed into demands for political freedoms.

China’s top security body warned late on Tuesday night that authorities would “crack down” on the protests, which are the most widespread since pro-democracy rallies in 1989 that were crushed with deadly force.

The protests erupted over the weekend across major cities in the country, including Beijing and Shanghai, with China’s vast security apparatus moving swiftly to smother any further unrest.

But new clashes broke out in China’s southern city of Guangzhou on Tuesday and into yesterday, according to witnesses and social media footage verified by AFP.

Security personnel in hazmat suits formed ranks shoulder-to-shoulder, taking cover under see-through riot shields, to make their way down a street in the southern city’s Haizhu district as glass smashed around them, videos posted on social media showed.

In the footage, protesters could be heard screaming and shouting, as orange and blue barricades were pictured strewn across the ground.

People are seen throwing objects at the police, and later nearly a dozen men are filmed being taken away with their hands bound with cable ties.

A Guangzhou resident surnamed Chen yesterday said that he witnessed around 100 police officers converge on Houjiao village in Haizhu district and arrest at least three men on Tuesday night.

Anger over China’s zero-Covid policies – which involve lockdowns of huge numbers of people and have strangled the economy – has been the trigger for the protests.

A deadly fire last week in Urumqi, the capital of the northwestern region of Xinjiang, was the catalyst for the outrage, with people blaming Covid curbs for trapping victims inside the burning building.

But demonstrators have also demanded much wider political reforms in communist China, with some even calling for President Xi Jinping to stand down.

Signalling its zero-tolerance approach to the protests, China’s top security body called for a “crackdown” on what it described as “hostile forces”.

The body – which oversees all domestic law enforcement in China – also agreed at its meeting that it was time to “crack down on illegal criminal acts that disrupt social order” as well as “safeguard overall social stability”.

The warning came after a heavy police presence across Beijing and Shanghai on Tuesday appeared to have quelled protests in those cities. — AFP

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