People have taken to the streets in Beijing, Shanghai and Wuhan to demand the resignation of President Xi Jinping. In some cities, protesters clashed with police and barricades set up by the Chinese government were torn down.
Criticism of Chinese authorities is mounting after a deadly apartment fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang province. Due to the strict lockdown, doors in the building would have been locked so that residents could not escape the flames.
The inhabitants of Urumqi have hardly been allowed to leave their homes for a hundred days due to the corona measures. Some victims would not have dared to leave their homes immediately for fear of breaking the rules. It was also difficult for rescuers to reach the building due to fencing that was put in place due to the shutdown.
Earlier, there were already strong protests in Urumqi itself in northwestern China. The protests have spread to other cities. On Saturday evening, about 300 people gathered in Shanghai to remember the victims of the fire with flowers, candles and signs reading “Urumqi, November 24th, those who died rest in peace.”
Videos shared on social media show a group of protesters shouting slogans against the Communist Party and President Xi Jinping. They shout ‘we want freedom’ and ‘we don’t want more tests’. They also demanded Xi’s resignation.
One of the protesters, Zhao, reports to the news agency AP that the police in Shanghai used pepper spray and that one of his friends was beaten by officers and then taken away. About a hundred police officers are said to have tried to prevent more protesters from gathering.
People in other cities also took to the streets to protest the shutdowns. Hundreds of people gathered at a university building in Beijing on Sunday. The population called for freedom and an end to the shutdowns. Images are also being shared of protests in the eastern city of Nanjing, Guangzhou in the south and at least five other cities. It shows protesters in white protective suits fighting the police or dismantling the barricades used to cordon off neighborhoods.
President Xi Jinping’s government is facing growing anger over its corona policies. Far-reaching measures are already being taken for small numbers of infections, sometimes requiring entire cities to be shut down. While this policy keeps infection rates relatively low compared to other countries, the Communist Party has faced increasing criticism over the policy’s economic and humanitarian impact. Businesses are closed and people live in isolation with little access to food and medicine.
That the protests are so open and spread across the country is rare for China, where expressions of defiance are usually censored. In Shanghai, protesters held up blank sheets of paper to symbolize censorship. A large crowd has also gathered in Wuhan to protest against the corona policy.
In Urumqi and Kora, cities in Xinjiang province where 10 million Uyghurs live, protesters chanted: “Remove the Communist Party!” and ‘Remove Xi Jinping!’. Protests in this province are risky due to the repression of Uyghurs and other Muslim ethnic minorities and the mass incarceration of these populations.
In an attempt to quell the unrest, Urumqi authorities announced on Saturday that measures would be eased as the number of infections dropped. The authorities deny that the corona measures prevented people from leaving the burning building. They claim that the residents of the building did not know enough about the fire hazard.