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Protestors rise against Xi Jinping’s Zero Covid Policy

Thousands of demonstrators protested against Chinese President Xi Jinping’s zero-Covid strategy in cities across China over the weekend, prompting some to openly call for his removal in the streets.

“Xi Jinping, take a step back!” Step down, Communist Party!” yelled one protester among hundreds gathered in Shanghai, one of several major cities where protests erupted following a deadly fire Thursday at an apartment building in the far western region of Xinjiang.
After videos emerged suggesting that lockdown measures delayed firefighters from reaching the victims, the fire appeared to act as a catalyst for searing public anger over China’s strict zero-Covid measures.
Residents gathered from Shanghai to the capital Beijing to mourn the ten people killed in the blaze in Xinjiang’s capital Urumqi, to speak out against zero-Covid, and to demand freedom and democracy.
Students demonstrated or displayed protest posters on dozens of university campuses. Following mass anti-lockdown protests in Urumqi on Friday night, residents in locked-down neighborhoods tore down barriers and took to the streets across the country.
Such widespread displays of rage and defiance – some of which lasted into the early hours of Monday morning – are extremely rare in China, where the ruling Communist Party ruthlessly suppresses all forms of dissent.
However, three years into the pandemic, many people have been pushed to the breaking point by the government’s constant use of lockdowns, Covid tests, and quarantines, as well as ever-tightening censorship and an onslaught on personal liberties.
The recent tightening of restrictions, combined with a string of heartbreaking deaths blamed on overzealous control policing, has brought things to a head.
Chinese stock markets and the yuan fell early Monday amid concerns about the government’s potential response to the protests, which varied by city and became more heavy-handed in some areas as the weekend progressed.
At a press conference on Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian dodged questions about the protests, claiming that social media posts linking the Xinjiang fire to Covid policies were motivated by “ulterior motives.”

He claimed that authorities had been “making adjustments based on realities on the ground.” When asked about the protesters calling for Xi’s resignation, he said, “I’m not aware of the situation you mentioned.”

Despite the fact that the protests made international headlines, Chinese state media carried stories and opinion pieces emphasizing the severity of the Covid outbreak and the need to keep fighting it.

“Practices have proven that our Covid measures can withstand the test of time, that they are scientific and effective,” according to an opinion piece published on Monday by the Xinhua news agency. “Persistence pays off.”

However, the threat posed by the spread of more contagious variants to zero-Covid was highlighted Monday when China reported 40,052 new local cases – the sixth consecutive day of record figures, according to the National Health Commission.

Nearly 4,000 of those infections were identified in Beijing, where city authorities banned blocking entrances to residential compounds under lockdown on Sunday, without mentioning the protests, adding that access must be granted to emergency services.

In Shanghai, where many of its 25 million residents hold deep resentment toward the government’s zero-Covid policy after being subjected to a two-month lockdown in the spring, simmering rage over the fire deaths led to remarkable acts of defiance.

According to videos widely circulated – and promptly censored – on Chinese social media and a witness account, hundreds of residents gathered late Saturday night for a candlelight vigil on Urumqi Road, named after the city, to mourn the victims of the Xinjiang fire.

Surrounding a makeshift memorial of candles, flowers, and placards, the crowd chanted, “Need human rights, need freedom,” while holding up blank sheets of white paper, a traditional symbol of protest against censorship.

People could be heard shouting demands for Xi and the Communist Party to “step down” in multiple videos seen by CNN. “Don’t want Covid test, want freedom!” and “Don’t want dictatorship, want democracy!” chanted the crowd.

Some videos show people singing China’s national anthem and The Internationale, a socialist movement standard while holding banners protesting the country’s unusually stringent pandemic preparedness measures.

Around 3 a.m., rows of police officers began to move in to push back and divide the crowd, sparking tense confrontations with the protesters, according to a witness.

The witness saw several people arrested after 4.30 a.m. and taken into a police vehicle next to the makeshift memorial, according to CNN.

They also witnessed several protesters being grabbed from the crowd by officers and led behind the police line. According to the witness, the protest dispersed gradually before dawn.

Hundreds of Shanghai residents returned to the protest site on Sunday afternoon, despite a heavy police presence and roadblocks, and were seen shouting “Release the people!” at an intersection, urging police to release detained demonstrators.


Police officers block Shanghai's Urumqi Road on Sunday.

This time, police took a tougher stance, moving faster and more aggressively to make arrests and disperse crowds.

In one video, a man walking on a pedestrian crossing with a bundle of chrysanthemums gave a speech as a police officer tried to stop him.

“We must be braver!” “Am I breaking the law by holding flowers?” he asked the crowd, who responded with a resounding “No!”

“We Chinese need to be braver!” he exclaimed, to applause from the audience. “There were so many of us arrested yesterday. Are they unemployed or without a family? We have nothing to fear!”

Crowds shouting "Release the people!" in Shanghai.

The man fought back as more than a dozen officers forced him into a police car in front of an angry crowd.

As more than a dozen officers forced him into a police car, an angry crowd yelled “Release him!” and rushed toward the vehicle.

Other videos show officers pushing, dragging, and beating protesters.

According to a live stream, after one protester was violently dragged away, hundreds of people yelled “triads” at the police, referring to local crime gangs.

A BBC statement stated, BBC journalist Edward Lawrence was arrested at the scene of the Shanghai protests on Sunday night and later released. Lawrence was allegedly “beaten and kicked by the police,” according to a BBC spokesperson.

On Monday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao confirmed Lawrence’s arrest, claiming that he had not identified himself as a journalist prior to his detention.

Growing unrest

By Sunday evening, mass protests had spread to Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Wuhan, where thousands of residents demanded not only the removal of Covid restrictions but also political freedom.

Hundreds of people, mostly young people, demonstrated in Beijing’s commercial heart until the early hours of Monday. A small crowd gathered along the Liangma River at first for a vigil for the victims of the Xinjiang fire, before swelling and marching down the city’s Third Ring Road.

People chanted anti-zero-Covid slogans, expressed support for the detained protesters in Shanghai, and demanded greater civil liberties. “We want liberty!” “We want freedom!” chanted the crowd beneath an overpass.

A demonstrator told CNN’s Selina Wang at the protest that the turnout surprised him.

“Every conscientious Chinese person should be present.” They are not required to express their views, but I hope they will support us,” he said.

According to a protester interviewed by CNN and videos circulating online, large crowds demonstrated along the bustling river banks in a popular food and shopping district in Chengdu’s southwestern metropolis.

The gathering began with a minute of silence to remember the Xinjiang fire victims before turning political as the crowd grew into the hundreds.

The crowd chanted, “Opposition to dictatorship!” “We don’t want rulers for life.” “We don’t want emperors!” they chanted, a thinly veiled reference to Xi, who took office last month for a record-breaking third term.

Hundreds gathered on a public square in Guangzhou’s Haizhu district, the epicenter of the city’s ongoing Covid outbreak, which has been shut down for weeks.

“We don’t want curfews; we want freedom!” Personal freedoms, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, freedom of the arts, freedom of movement Give me my liberty back! ” The crowd yelled.

University Campuses

Protests have also broken out across China on university campuses, which are particularly politically sensitive to the Communist Party given the history of student-led pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989.

Around 100 students gathered in the early hours of Sunday morning around a protest slogan painted on a wall at Beijing’s prestigious Peking University. A student told CNN that when he arrived at the scene around 1 a.m., security guards were covering the protest sign with jackets.

A security guard tries to cover a protest slogan against zero-Covid on the campus of Peking University in Beijing.

A security guard tries to cover a protest slogan against zero-Covid on the campus of Peking University in Beijing.

“Say no to lockdown, yes to liberty.” “No to Covid test, yes to food,” read the message written in red paint, echoing the slogan of a protest held on a Beijing overpass in October, just days before a key Communist Party meeting at which Xi was re-elected for a third term.

“Open your eyes and look around, dynamic zero-Covid is a lie,” read the protest banner at Peking University.

According to the student, security guards later covered the slogan with black paint.

Students at the Communication University of China, Nanjing gather in a vigil on Saturday evening to mourn the victims of the Xinjiang fire.

Students at the Communication University of China, Nanjing gather in a vigil on Saturday evening to mourn the victims of the Xinjiang fire.

Also read: China shows no signs of relenting on Zero-Covid policies as public outrage grows

Following that, students gathered to sing The Internationale before being dispersed by teachers and security guards.

On Saturday evening, at least dozens of students from the Communication University of China, Nanjing gathered in the eastern province of Jiangsu to mourn those who died in the Xinjiang fire. Students can be seen in videos holding sheets of white paper and mobile phone flashlights.

“You will pay for what you did today,” a university official can be heard saying in one video.


Hundreds of students at Tsinghua University in Beijing gathered on Sunday to protest against zero-Covid and censorship.

Hundreds of students at Tsinghua University in Beijing gathered on Sunday to protest against zero-Covid and censorship.

“You, too, and so will the country,” a student responded.

Protests on campus continued on Sunday. Hundreds of students gathered on a square at Tsinghua University, another elite university in Beijing, to protest zero-Covid and censorship.

Social media videos and images show students holding up sheets of white paper and shouting, “Democracy and the rule of law!” “Freedom of speech!”


Source: CNN

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