Rare protests have erupted in major cities across China in the last few days in protest against COVID-19 lockdowns. Some demonstrators called for the Communist Party’s resignation.
The latest demonstrations were prompted by a fire at a high-rise apartment block located in the northwestern Xinjiang area.
At least 10 people were killed in the Urumqi fire. Questions have been raised about whether China‘s tight lockdown policy prevented residents from fleeing the flames.
Officials denied this and an angry spokesperson for the fire department reacted to residents’ inability to “rescue” themselves.
Many Chinese cities are under tight lockdown since months. For example, many of Urumqi’s four million residents have been unable leave their homes since August.
On Saturday night in Shanghai, police used pepper spray to disperse around 300 protesters who had gathered on Middle Urumqi Road carrying flowers and candles. They also held signs reading “Urumqi November 24,” in honor of the victims.
Videos shared via social media were verified by Sky News. Protesters were heard chanting slogans such as “Xi Jinping”, “Communist Party, step down”, and “Unlock Xinjiang,” and “Do not want PCR, want freedom” in videos.
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Zhao, a protester, who only gave his family name, said that Zhao was a friend of a police officer and that he had been beaten. Two other friends were pepper sprayed.
As he tried stopping police from taking away his friend, he claimed that they stomped on him feet. He lost his shoes and was left the protest unshoeless.
Reuters reported that it had seen a video of Beijing residents marching through an open-air parking lot on Saturday shouting “end this lockdown!”
Sean Li, a Beijing resident, said to Reuters that a lockdown planned for his compound was canceled on Friday after residents spotted workers putting barricades on their gates.
Residents protested to the local leader and persuaded him to cancel the plans.
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Mr Li stated that the Urumqi fire had upset everyone in the country.
“That tragedy could have occurred to anyone of us.”
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Urumqi witnessed protests Friday night, when an anti-lockdown demonstration grew out of a vigil held for victims of fire.
Videos that were posted on social media by people chanted “open your eyes, open your mouth” before being removed by censors on Saturday.
The protesters did win some concessions. Some parts of the city that were deemed low-risk were allowed to be freed from restrictions over the weekend.
Protests against government policies are not common in China, but they are more rare in Xinjiang.
Xinjiang is home to China’s persecuted Uyghur minorities. There have been reports of people starving earlier this year.
Initial reception of China’s zero COVID policy was positive by the citizens. They saw it as reducing deaths, while other countries were suffering huge casualties.
However, support for the UK has declined in recent months due to Chinese citizens becoming tired of the restrictions.
China is the only country major that continues to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, with strict lockdowns and mass testing.