Protesters pushed to the brink by China’s strict COVID measures in Shanghai called for the ouster of the country’s leader and clashed with police on Sunday, as crowds poured into the streets in several cities in a stunning challenge to the government.
Police forcibly evicted protesters from China’s financial capital calling for the resignation of Xi Jinping and the end of Chinese Communist Party rule, but hours later the crowd returned to the same spot, and reports of Social media outlets indicated that the protests also spread to at least seven other cities, including the capital Beijing, and to dozens of university campuses.
Large-scale protests are extremely rare in China, where public expressions of dissent are routinely suppressed, but a direct rebuke of Xi, the country’s most powerful leader in decades, is extraordinary.
Three years after the virus first appeared, China is the only major country still trying to stop the transmission of COVID-19, with a “zero COVID” policy forcing millions of people to stay at home for weeks and undergo to almost constant tests. Initially, the measures were widely accepted to minimize deaths while other countries suffered devastating waves of infections, but that consensus has begun to unravel in recent weeks.
On Friday, 10 people died in a fire at an apartment building, with many believing their rescue was delayed due to excessive lockdown measures. This set off a weekend of protests, as the Chinese public’s ability to tolerate the tough measures has apparently reached breaking point.
Hundreds of protesters gathered late on Saturday in Shanghai, which suffered a devastating lockdown in the spring in which people struggled to get food and medicine and were forcibly herded into a centralized quarantine.
On a street named after the city in China’s far west where the fire broke out, a group of protesters carried candles, flowers and banners honoring those killed in the fire. Another, according to a protester who insisted on anonymity, was more active, chanting slogans and singing the national anthem.
In a video of the protest seen by The Associated Press, the chants rang out loud and clear: “Xi Jinping! Resign! CCP! Resign!” Xi, arguably China’s most dominant leader since Mao Zedong, was recently appointed to another term at the helm of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and some expect him to try to stay in power for life.
The protester and another, who gave only his last name, Zhao, confirmed the chants. Both insisted that their identities be protected because they feared arrest or reprisals.
The atmosphere of the protest encouraged people to talk about topics considered taboo, such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, in which the ruling Communist Party ordered troops to fire on pro-democracy student protesters, he said. the anonymous protester Some also called for an official apology for the deaths in the Urumqi fire in the Xinjiang region. A member of the Uyghur ethnic group, originally from Xinjiang, who has been the target of an extensive security campaign, shared his experiences of discrimination and police violence.
“Everybody thinks that the Chinese are afraid to go out to protest, that they have no courage,” said the protester, who said it was his first time demonstrating. “Actually, in my heart, I also thought so. But then when I went there, I found that the atmosphere was such that everyone was very brave.
Initially peaceful, the scene turned violent in the early hours of Sunday. Hundreds of police surrounded the protesters and broke up the first most active group before going after the second as they tried to move people away from the main street. The protester said that he saw several people being taken away, forced by the police into vans, but he could not identify them.
The protester, named Zhao, said one of his friends was beaten by police and two were pepper-sprayed. He said the police stomped on his feet when he tried to stop them from taking his friend away. He lost his shoes in the process and left the protest barefoot.
Zhao said protesters were chanting slogans, including one that has become a frequent rallying cry: “We don’t want CRP.” [pruebas]but freedom.”
On Sunday afternoon, the crowd returned to the same location and again protested against PCR tests. People stood up and filmed as the police started to push people away.
A crowdsourced listing on social media showed that there were also demonstrations at 50 universities. Videos posted on social media, which claimed to have been recorded in Nanjing (east), Guangzhou (south), Beijing (north) and at least five other cities, showed protesters grappling with policemen in white protective suits or dismounting. the barricades used to cordon off neighborhoods. The Associated Press was unable to independently verify all of the protests.
In Beijing, students from the country’s largest university, Tsinghua University, held a demonstration on Sunday afternoon in front of one of the school’s cafeterias. Three young women initially stood there with a simple message of condolence for the victims of the Urumqi apartment fire, according to a witness, who declined to be named for fear of reprisals, and footage of the protest seen by the AP.
The students shouted “freedom of expression” and sang the Internationale, the socialist anthem. The school’s deputy secretary of the Communist Party came to the protest and promised to hold a school-wide debate.
Meanwhile, two northwestern Chinese cities, where residents have been confined to their homes for up to four months, eased some anti-virus checks on Sunday after public protests on Friday.
For its part, Urumqi, where the fire broke out, as well as the smaller city of Korla, were preparing to reopen markets and other businesses in areas considered low risk of virus transmission and to resume bus, train service and airlines, state media reported.
Information of: The Times of Israel