WorldMore protests erupt against coronavirus restrictions in China

More protests erupt against coronavirus restrictions in China

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Protests against the restrictive measures of China to prevent the spread of COVID appeared to erupt in several cities late Saturday, in public rallies of defiance fueled by anger over a deadly fire in the western region of Xinjiang.

Many protests could not be confirmed so far, but in Shanghai police used pepper spray to stop some 300 protesters who gathered on Urumqi Central Road at midnight with flowers, candles and signs reading: “Urumqi, November 24, which rest in peace those who died”, to remember the 10 deaths caused by a fire in an apartment building in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

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A protester who gave only his last name, Zhao, said one of his friends was beaten by police and two others were pepper sprayed. He added that the police stepped on him when he was trying to stop them from taking his friend away. On the way he lost his shoes and left the protest barefoot.

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Zhao said the protesters chanted phrases such as: “Xi Jinping, resign; Communist Party, resign”, “liberate Xinjiang, liberate China”, “we don’t want PCR (tests), we want freedom” and “freedom of the press”.

About a hundred policemen stood one row after another to prevent the protesters from gathering or leaving, and then buses with more policemen arrived, Zhao said.

Another protester, who was identified only by his last name, Xu, said there was a larger crowd, numbering in the thousands, but police were blocking the street and letting protesters through on the sidewalk.

Posts about the protest were immediately removed on Chinese social media, as the Chinese Communist Party often deletes criticism.

Hours earlier, authorities in the Xinjiang region sealed off some of the neighborhoods in Urumqi after residents demonstrated last night against the city’s lockdown, which has been in place for more than three months. Many claim that the obstacles caused by the measures against the coronavirus worsened the fire in which 10 people died. It took emergency workers three hours to extinguish the flames, but officials denied the allegations, saying the building was not barricaded and residents were allowed to leave.

During Xinjiang’s lockdown, some residents of the city have had their doors physically locked with chains, including one who spoke to The Associated Press who did not want to be named for fear of retaliation. Many in Urumqi believe such brute force tactics may have prevented residents from escaping Thursday’s fire and that the actual death toll is higher.

The tension boiled over after Urumqi municipal officials held a press conference on the fire in which they reportedly blamed the residents of the apartment tower themselves for the deaths.

“The ability of some residents to save themselves was very poor,” said Li Wensheng, head of the Urumqi fire department.

Police cracked down on dissenting voices and announced the arrest of a 24-year-old woman for spreading “false information” online about the death toll.

On Friday night, people in Urumqi marched peacefully in the cold winter night.

Videos of the protests show people holding the Chinese flag and shouting: “Open up, open up.” The videos spread rapidly on Chinese social media despite heavy censorship. In some scenes, people are seen shouting and pushing through lines of men dressed in the white protective suits worn by government workers and pandemic prevention volunteers.

By Saturday, most of the videos had been removed by censors. The Associated Press could not independently verify all of the videos, but two Urumqi residents who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals said large protests raged late Friday. One of them said that friends of his participated.

The AP determined that two of the protest videos were taken in different parts of Urumqi. In one of the videos, police wearing masks and hospital gowns face screaming protesters. In another, a protester speaks to the crowd about his demands. The extent of the protests is unclear.

The demonstrations, as well as public outrage online, are the latest signs of mounting frustration over China’s “zero COVID” strategy. It is the only large country in the world still fighting the pandemic with mass testing and lockdowns.

Given China’s vast security apparatus, protests are risky anywhere in the country, but they are extraordinary in Xinjiang, which for years has been the target of a brutal crackdown. Large numbers of Uighurs and other predominantly Muslim minorities have been taken to a vast network of camps and prisons.

Most of the protesters featured in recent videos were Han Chinese. An Uyghur woman living in Urumqi said this was because the Uyghurs were too scared to go out into the streets despite their annoyance.

“The Han Chinese know that they will not be punished if they speak out against the blockade,” she said, declining to be identified for fear of reprisals against her family. “Uyghurs are different. If we dare to say such things, they will take us to jail or to the fields.”



Source: Elcomercio

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