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Protests have erupted in several cities against China’s restrictive COVID-19 policies, with residents calling for an end to lockdowns and participating in expressions of defiance prompted by a deadly fire in the country’s western Xinjiang region that is linked brought in with strict lockdown policies.

The largest protests took place on Saturday in Shanghai, China’s most populous city and financial center, according to news organizations. Demonstrations were also reported at a university in the eastern city of Nanjing, and a small protest took place in the Chinese capital. , Beijing.

There was no immediate response from the Chinese government.

In Shanghai, hundreds of people gathered on the city’s Wulumqi Road at midnight, the Associated Press news agency reported, carrying flowers, candles and signs reading “Urumqi, November 24, those who died rest in peace” to commemorate 10 people who died in a fire in an apartment building in Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

The deaths have sparked widespread public outrage as many internet users suspected that residents of the high-rise building could not escape in time because the building was partially sealed. However, city officials have rejected the claim.

Crowds in Shanghai chanted, “Lift the lockdown on Urumqi, lift the lockdown on Xinjiang, lift the lockdown on all of China!”, according to a video allegedly of the demonstration circulating on social media.

At one point, a large group began chanting, “Down with the Chinese Communist Party, down with Xi Jinping, liberate Urumqi!”, according to witnesses and video footage.

A large group of police officers watched and at times tried to break up the crowd.

A protester who only mentioned his last name, Zhao, told the AP that one of his friends was beaten by police and two friends were sprayed with pepper spray. He said police stamped his feet when he tried to stop them from taking his friend. He lost his shoes in the process and left the protest barefoot.

Zhao said the protesters chanted slogans including “Xi Jinping, step down; Communist Party, step down”, “Unlock Xinjiang, unlock China”, “don’t want PCR [tests]want freedom” and “freedom of the press”.

Another protester, who also only mentioned his last name, Xu, told the AP there was a larger crowd of thousands of protesters.

Dodge sensors

Posts about the protest were immediately removed from social media, as the Chinese Communist Party usually does to quell criticism.

Some social media users posted screenshots of street signs for Wulumuqi Road, both to evade censorship and to show support for protesters in Shanghai. Others shared comments or posts urging all “you brave young people” to be careful. Many contain advice on what to do if the police come or arrest people during a protest or vigil.

The explosion of criticism marks a sharp turn in public opinion. Early in the pandemic, China’s approach to controlling COVID-19 was praised by its citizens for minimizing deaths at a time when other countries were battling devastating waves of infections.

But support for Xi’s signature policy of “zero-COVID” has faded in recent months as Beijing continues to adhere to restrictions even as much of the world tries to coexist with the coronavirus.

While the number of cases is low by global standards, cases in China have been at record highs for days, with nearly 40,000 new infections reported on Sunday for the previous day.

In Xinjiang, where the government is accused of abusing the predominantly Muslim Uyghur minority, residents have been detained since August. Most have not been allowed to leave their homes, and some have reported appalling conditions, including interrupted food deliveries that left residents starving.

A woman told the AP that some residents’ doors are chained. The agency said many in Urumqi believe such brute force tactics may have prevented residents from escaping during Thursday’s blaze.

Their anger boiled over after Urumqi city officials held a press conference about the fire in which they appeared to shift responsibility for the deaths onto residents of the residential tower.

“The ability of some residents to save themselves was too weak,” said Li Wensheng, chief of the Urumqi fire department.

Police also cracked down on dissent, announcing the arrest of a 24-year-old woman for spreading “false information” about the death toll online.

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

Videos of protests showed people holding the Chinese flag and shouting “Open up, open up”.

Images quickly spread on Chinese social media despite heavy censorship. In some scenes, people yelled and shoved into rows of men in the full-body white hazmat suits worn by local government workers and pandemic prevention volunteers, according to the videos.

By Saturday, most of the images had been removed by censorship, but authorities in Urumqi opened some neighborhoods in the city of four million that were considered low-risk on the same day.

In Beijing, some residents on lockdown staged small protests or confronted local officials with restrictions on movement, with some successfully pressuring them to lift curbs ahead of schedule.

A video shared with Reuters news agency showed Beijing residents in an unidentifiable part of the capital marching around an open-air parking lot on Saturday chanting, “End the lockdown!”

In Nanjing, videos posted online showed hundreds of students gathering on the campus of the Communication University of China in solidarity with the victims of the Urumqi fire. The New York Times said smaller protests and vigils also took place at Peking University and Wuhan University of Technology.

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Merry

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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