Saturday, January 28, 2023

Protest Turns Violent In China…

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( – People opposed to China’s stringent Covid restrictions have protested in cities across the country in the biggest wave of civil disobedience on the mainland since Xi Jinping assumed power a decade ago.

Protests triggered by a deadly apartment fire in the far west of the country last week took place on Sunday in cities including Shanghai, Beijing, Chengdu, Wuhan and Guangzhou, according to footage shared on social media, in defiance of a series of heavy-handed arrests of demonstrators on Saturday night.

In the early hours of Monday in Beijing, two groups of protesters totalling at least 1,000 people were gathered along the Chinese capital’s 3rd Ring Road near the Liangma River, refusing to disperse.

In an unusually bold act that appeared to indicate the level of people’s desperation, a crowd in Shanghai late on Saturday night called for the removal of the Communist party and Xi during a standoff with police, chanting: “Communist party! Step down! Xi Jinping! Step down!” Chinese people usually refrain from criticising the party and its leaders in public for fear of reprisals.

The protests erupted on Friday in Urumqi , the regional capital of the far west Xinjiang region, after footage of a fire in a residential building that killed at least 10 people the day before led to accusations that a Covid lockdown was a factor in the death toll.

Urumqi officials abruptly held a news conference in the early hours of Saturday to deny Covid measures had hampered escape and rescue. Many of Urumqi’s 4 million residents have been under some of the country’s longest lockdowns, barred from leaving their homes for as long as 100 days.

In Shanghai, China’s biggest city and a global financial hub, crowds returned to Middle Urumqi Road – named after the Xinjiang capital – for a second day on Sunday, despite a series of widely documented arrests the day before.

Police closed the street to non-local traffic and made arrests, according to videos online. A photograph which quickly went viral on Sunday night appeared to show police removing the Middle Urumqi Road street sign.

Late on Sunday, a BBC journalist was seen on camera being “beaten and kicked by police” before being arrested in the city. Footage on social media showed Edward Lawrence being dragged to the ground in handcuffs, while he was seen saying in another video: “Call the consulate now.”

A BBC spokesperson said: “The BBC is extremely concerned about the treatment of our journalist Ed Lawrence, who was arrested and handcuffed while covering the protests in Shanghai.

“He was held for several hours before being released,” the spokesperson said, adding that Lawrence had been covering the protests as an accredited journalist.

Lawrence, a senior journalist and camera operator for the BBC’s China bureau, was tweeting from the scene of the protest in Shanghai on Sunday morning UK time.

He wrote: “I’m at the scene of last night’s extraordinary anti Covid-zero protest in Shanghai. Many people are gathered here quietly watching. Lots of cops.”

On Saturday, people in Shanghai had chanted “No PCR tests, we want freedom!” followed by rounds of repeated calls for “Freedom! Freedom!”

“We just want our basic human rights. We can’t leave our homes without getting a test. It was the accident in Xinjiang that pushed people too far,” a 26-year-old protester in Shanghai who declined to be identified told Reuters.

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