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Clashes in Shanghai as COVID protests erupt across China – SABC News

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Hundreds of demonstrators and police clashed in Shanghai as protests against China’s strict COVID restrictions raged for a third day and spread to several cities following a deadly apartment fire in the country’s far west on Sunday night.

The wave of civil disobedience is unprecedented in mainland China since President Xi Jinping came to power a decade ago. Disappointment is mounting over his signature policy of zero spread of COVID nearly 3 years into the pandemic.

The measures to combat COVID are also taking a heavy toll on the world’s second-largest economy.

“I’m here because I love my country, but I don’t love my government… I want to be able to go out freely, but I can’t. Our policy regarding COVID-19 is a game and is not based on science or reality.” says a protester in the financial center named Sean Xiao.

Protesters also took to the streets in the cities of Wuhan and Chengdu on Sunday. In Beijing, small gatherings held peaceful vigils, and students on numerous university campuses across China gathered for weekend demonstrations.

10 people died

A fire at a residential high-rise in the city of Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang region, on Thursday sparked protests after videos of the incident posted on social media led to accusations that lockdown was the cause of the blaze that killed 10 people.

Urumqi officials held a surprise news conference in the early hours of Saturday to deny that the COVID measures had hampered the escape and rescue efforts. Many of Urumqi’s 4 million residents were under the country’s longest lockdown, barring them from leaving their homes for 100 days.

A candle

In Shanghai on Sunday, police maintained a heavy presence on Wulumuchi Street, named after Urumqi, where a candlelight vigil turned into protests the day before.

A 26-year-old protester in Shanghai, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, says: “We just want our basic human rights. We can’t leave the house without a test. It was the accident in Xinjiang that pushed people too far.”

“People here are not violent, but the police detain them for no reason. They tried to grab me, but the people around me grabbed my arms so hard and pulled me back so I could run away.” – she adds.

By Sunday evening, hundreds of people had gathered in the area. Some of them tried to disperse the police. In protest, people held up blank sheets of paper.

A Reuters eyewitness saw police escorting people to a bus that later drove away through a crowd of several dozen people.

Lift Lock Call

A vigil in Shanghai for victims of an apartment fire turned into a protest against the COVID curbs on Saturday, with crowds chanting calls for the lockdown to be lifted.

One large group chanted “Down with the Chinese Communist Party, down with Xi Jinping” on Sunday morning, according to witnesses and videos posted on social media, in a rare public protest against the country’s leadership.

According to unverified videos on social media, after the fire in Urumqi on Friday night, crowds took to the streets chanting “End the lockdown!” and punch the air.

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

In the central city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began 3 years ago, videos on social media showed hundreds of residents taking to the streets, punching through metal barricades, overturning COVID-testing tents and demanding an end to the lockdown.

Other cities that have seen public dissent include Lanzhou in the northwest, where residents overturned the tents of COVID workers and smashed testing booths on Saturday, social media reports showed. Protesters said they were shut down, even though no one had tested positive.

The videos cannot be independently verified.

At the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing, dozens of people staged a peaceful protest against COVID restrictions, during which they sang the national anthem, according to images and videos posted on social media on Sunday.

“We don’t want masks”

Two seemingly spontaneous protests broke out late Sunday in Beijing’s Chaoyang district.

In one of them, at least 100 people were holding blank sheets of white paper. At another, the crowd chanted, including: “We don’t want masks, we want freedom.” We don’t want COVID tests, we want freedom.”

China has stuck to Xi Jinping’s policies even as much of the world has lifted most restrictions. The number of cases in China, though low by global standards, reached record highs in a matter of days, with nearly 40,000 new infections reported on Saturday, prompting more lockdowns in cities across the country.

Beijing has defended the policy as lifesaving and necessary to prevent the health system from being overwhelmed. Officials vowed to keep it up.

Since Shanghai’s 25 million residents were placed under a two-month lockdown earlier this year, Chinese authorities have sought to be more targeted in curbing COVID, an effort that has been challenged by a surge in infections as the country faces its first winter with the pandemic, the highly transmissible variant of Omicron.

Rare protests

Widespread public protest is rare in China, where space for dissent has been all but eliminated under Xi, forcing citizens to mostly vent their frustrations on social media, where they play cat-and-mouse with censors.

Disappointment is simmering just over a month after Xi won a third term as the head of the Chinese Communist Party.

“This will put serious pressure on the party to respond. There is a high probability that one of the answers will be repression, some protesters will be arrested and brought to justice.” says Dan Mattingly, associate professor of political science at Yale University.

However, the riots are far from those seen in 1989, when protests culminated in a bloody crackdown on Tiananmen Square. – he adds.

He added that as long as Xi is on the side of the Chinese elite and the military, he will not face a significant risk to his power.

This weekend, Xinjiang Communist Party Secretary Ma Xingjui called on the region to strengthen security and stop “illegal and violent refusal of COVID prevention measures.”

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