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Angry at lockdown, Chinese protesters call for Xi’s resignation

 


Protesters pushed to the brink by China’s strict COVID measures in Shanghai called for the removal of the country’s all-powerful leader and clashed with police on Sunday as crowds took to the streets of several cities in a staggering challenge to the government.

Police forcibly removed protesters in China’s financial capital calling for the resignation of Xi Jinping and an end to Chinese Communist Party rule, but hours later people gathered again in the same place, and social media said protests have also spread to at least seven other cities, including the capital of Beijing, and dozens of college campuses.

Large-scale protests are exceedingly rare in China, where public expressions of dissent are regularly suppressed, but a direct rebuke from Xi, the country’s most powerful leader for decades, is extraordinary.

Three years after the virus emerged, China is the only major country still trying to stop transmission of COVID-19, a zero-COVID policy that routinely sees millions confined to their homes for weeks and requiring testing. almost constant. The measures were originally widely accepted to minimize deaths while other countries suffered devastating waves of infections, but that consensus has started to crumble in recent weeks.

Then on Friday, 10 people died in a building fire, and many believe their rescue was delayed due to excessive lockdowns. It sparked a weekend of protests as the Chinese public’s ability to tolerate the harsh measures apparently reached a breaking point.

Hundreds of protesters gathered late Saturday in Shanghai, which experienced a devastating spring lockdown during which people struggled to secure groceries and medicine and were forcibly placed in central quarantine.

On a street named after the city in far western China where the blaze occurred, a group of protesters brought candles, flowers and signs honoring those who died in the fire. Another, according to a protester who insisted on anonymity, was more active, shouting 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 nominated for another term as head of the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and some expect him to try to stay in power at life.

The protester and another, who gave only his surname, Zhao, confirmed the chants. Both have insisted that their identities be protected because they fear being arrested or punished.

The atmosphere of the protest encouraged people to talk about topics considered taboo, including the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in which the ruling Communist Party ordered troops to fire on pro-democracy student protesters, a said the anonymous protester. Some have also called for an official apology for the deaths in the Urumqi fire in the Xinjiang region. An ethnic Uighur from Xinjiang who has been the target of a massive security crackdown shared his experiences of discrimination and police brutality.

Everyone thinks the Chinese are afraid to come out and protest, that they have no courage, said the protester, who said it was his first demonstration. In fact, in my heart, I also thought that way. But when I went there, I found that the environment was such that everyone was very brave.

At first peaceful, the scene turned violent in the early hours of Sunday. Hundreds of police surrounded the protesters and dispersed the more active first group before they came for the second as they tried to drive people away from the main street. The protester said he saw several people being taken away, forced by police into vans, but could not identify them.

The protester named Zhao said one of his friends was beaten by police and two others were sprayed with pepper spray. He said police stomped on his feet as 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 shouted slogans, including one that has become a frequent rallying cry: (We) don’t want PCR (testing), but want freedom.

On Sunday afternoon, the crowds returned to the same location and again protested the PCR tests. People stood up and filmed as the police started pushing people around.

A crowdsourced list on social media showed there were also protests at 50 universities. Videos posted to social media claiming to have been filmed in Nanjing in the east, Guangzhou in the south, Beijing in the north and at least five other cities showed protesters fighting with police in white protective gear or dismantling used barricades to seal the quarters. The Associated Press could not independently verify all of the protests.

In Beijing, students from the country’s top university, Tsinghua University, staged a protest on Sunday afternoon outside one of the school’s cafeterias. Three young women stood there initially 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 from the protest that the AP has seen.

The students shouted, freedom of expression and sang The International, the socialist anthem. The school’s Communist Party deputy secretary arrived at the protest, promising to hold a school-wide discussion.

Meanwhile, two cities in northwest China, where residents have been confined to their homes for up to four months, eased some virus checks on Sunday after public protests on Friday.

Meanwhile, Urumqi, where the blaze occurred, along with the small town of Korla were preparing to reopen markets and other businesses in areas deemed to be at low risk of virus transmission and restart services. buses, trains and planes, state media reported.

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