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Spread of protests in China, reports of clashes with police in Shanghai | Protests News

Spread of protests in China, reports of clashes with police in Shanghai | Protests News

Hundreds of protesters and police clashed in Shanghai as protests against China’s tough COVID-19 restrictions continued until a third day and spread to several other cities.

The last demonstrations – unprecedented in mainland China since President Xi Jinping took power a decade ago – began after 10 people were killed in a fire in Urumqi, the capital of the far-western region of Xinjiang, that of Many protesters blame prolonged COVID-19 lockdowns.

The deaths have become a lightning rod for frustrations over Beijing zero-COVID commitment and its combination of strict lockdowns, mass testing and tracking that continues to hamper people’s lives three years after the first cases of the then-unknown virus were detected in the central city of Wuhan.

“I’m here because I love my country, but I don’t like my government… I want to be able to go out freely, but I can’t. Our COVID-19 policy is a game and not based on science or reality,” protester Shaun Xiao told Reuters news agency in Shanghai, China’s largest city.

Hundreds of people gathered in the city on Sunday evening, waving blank sheets of paper to express censure for the protest, as police maintained a heavy presence on Wulumuqi Road, named after Urumqi, and where a vigil for Candlelight Saturday turned into a protest.

Police officers wearing high visibility jackets detain people during a protest in Shanghai, China.
Protesters and police clashed in Shanghai, and the BBC reported that one of its journalists was beaten and detained by officers [Reuters]

A Reuters witness saw police escorting people onto a bus which was then chased through the crowd with a few dozen people on board. An accredited BBC journalist covering the protests was assaulted and detained for several hours, the UK public broadcaster said.

“The BBC is extremely concerned about the treatment of our journalist Ed Lawrence, who was arrested and handcuffed while covering protests in Shanghai,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

“He was detained for several hours before being released. During his arrest, he was beaten and kicked by the police.

“We want freedom”

Protesters also took to the streets of Wuhan and Chengdu on Sunday, as students from numerous college campuses across China gathered to demonstrate over the weekend.

In the early hours of Monday in Beijing, two groups of protesters totaling at least 1,000 people gathered along the Chinese capital’s Third Ring Road near the Liangma River, refusing to disperse.

“We don’t want masks, we want freedom. We don’t want COVID tests, we want freedom,” one of the groups chanted earlier.

Thursday’s fire in Urumqi was followed by crowds that took to the streets of the city on Friday evening, chanting “End the lockdown!” and raising his fists in the air, according to unverified social media videos.

A large crowd gathered in the southwestern metropolis of Chengdu on Sunday, according to videos on social media. There, they also held up blank sheets of paper and chanted, “We don’t want leaders for life. We don’t want emperors,” a reference to Xi, who removed presidential term limits.

In Wuhan, videos on social media showed hundreds of residents taking to the streets, smashing metal barricades, toppling COVID test tents and demanding an end to lockdowns.

Other cities that have seen public dissent include Lanzhou in the northwest. Protesters said they were placed in lockdown even though no one tested positive.

“People have been incredibly patient with the lockdowns, but the authorities must not overuse emergency policies,” Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director Hana Young said in a statement. “These unprecedented protests show that people are at the end of their tolerance for excessive Covid-19 restrictions.

“The Chinese government must immediately review its Covid-19 policies to ensure they are proportionate and time-limited. All quarantine measures that threaten personal safety and unnecessarily restrict freedom of movement must be suspended. »

Pressure on the party

China has stuck to Xi’s zero-COVID policy even as much of the world lifted most pandemic-related restrictions, but the emergence of more transmissible variants has blunted the effectiveness of measures to eradicate the virus. virus.

Although low by global standards, the number of cases in China has been at record highs for days, with more than 40,000 new cases reported by authorities in their update on Monday.

Beijing has defended the policy as life-saving and necessary to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system, but has refined its approach after a The prolonged lockdown in Shanghai earlier this year fueled anger and frustration among the city’s 25 million inhabitants.

The National Health Commission has sent officers to various local authorities to help implement the new policies and “fix some issues”, and avoid a “one size fits all” approach and “excessive political measures” in the fight against the outbreaks, the state-run Global Times reported Monday.

He noted that authorities in the eastern city of Hefei had issued a “don’t” list of 16 items, including not sealing and welding doors for people quarantined at home, while in the Central Zhengzhou, officials said a “stay-at-home order” meant residents would still be allowed outside for medical treatment, emergencies, escapes and rescues.

A heavy police presence during a protest against COVID-19 restrictions in Beijing, China.
There was a heavy police presence at the protest in Beijing [Thomas Peter/Reuters]

In Urumqi, where many of the regional capital’s four million residents have been banned from leaving their homes for 100 days, officials denied that COVID-19 lockdown measures had hampered escape and recovery efforts. rescue during Thursday’s fire.

Frustration, however, is boiling 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 a response will be repression, and they will arrest and prosecute some protesters,” said Dan Mattingly, an assistant professor of political science at Yale University.

Still, he warned, 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.

“The tragedy of the Urumqi fire inspired remarkable bravery across China. Unfortunately, China’s playbook is all too predictable,” said Young of Amnesty. “Censorship and surveillance will continue, and we will most likely see police use force and make mass arrests of protesters in the hours and days to come. Long prison sentences against peaceful protesters are also to be expected. »

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