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Protests Erupt Throughout China Over Country’s Strict Covid Policies and Human Rights Abuses

A Chinese protester | Shutterstock
A Chinese protester | Shutterstock

Protests erupted across China throughout the weekend, including at universities and in Shanghai. According to reports by CNN, civilians chanted, "Step down, Xi Jinping! Step down, Communist Party!" in a surprising show of defiance against the country's strict and costly zero-Covid policy.

Reports on the ground in Beijing indicate a deadly fire at an apartment block in Urumqi, the capital of the far western region of Xinjiang, which killed 10 people and injured nine on Thursday, acting as a catalyst for searing public anger. 

Videos from the scene suggest that the lockdown measures delayed firefighters from reaching the victims.

In Shanghai, one of China's many financial hubs, residents gathered to grieve the dead from the Xinjiang fire, speak out against zero-Covid and call for freedom and democracy. 

On several university campuses, students demonstrated or put-up protest posters. 

Residents in locked-down neighborhoods tore down barriers and took to the streets following mass anti-lockdown protests that swept Urumqi Friday night.

Saturday night, hundreds of Chinese residents gathered for a candlelight vigil on Urumqi Road, named after the city, to mourn the victims of the Xinjiang fire, according to videos widely circulated and promptly censored on Chinese social media and a witness account. 

Crowds surrounding the makeshift memorial of candles, flowers, and placards held up blank sheets of white paper, a symbolic protest against censorship, chanting, "Need human rights, need freedom."

In multiple videos by news outlets, people demanded China's leader Xi Jinping and the Communist Party to "step down" and also chanted, "Don't want Covid test, want freedom!" and "Don't want dictatorship, want democracy!"

Other videos showed people singing the country's national anthem and The Internationale, a standard of the socialist movement while holding banners protesting the government's stringent pandemic measures. 

Police forces in China started to push back and divide the crowd around 3 am, sparking tense face-offs with the protesters, according to a witness. 

According to reports, several people were arrested and taken into a police vehicle next to the makeshift memorial after 4:30 am.

Witnesses saw protesters being grabbed by the officers from the crowd and taken behind the police line. 

The protests gradually dispersed before dawn said witnesses present. On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of residents in Shanghai returned to the site to protest despite facing heavy police presence and roadblocks. 

Videos on social media showed hundreds of people at an intersection shouting, "Release the people!" demanding the police free detained demonstrators.

Police adopted a more hardline approach against protesters, moving faster and more aggressively to arrest and disperse the crowds. 

A video in Urumqi Road shows chaotic scenes of police pushing, dragging, and beating protesters. 

By Sunday evening, mass demonstrations had spread to Beijing, Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Wuhan, where thousands of residents called for an end to Covid restrictions and political freedoms.

In Beijing, hundreds of young people gathered along the Liangma River for a vigil for the victims of the Xinjiang fire before it grew in size and eventually marched down the city’s Third Ring Road. 

According to reports, people chanted slogans against zero-Covid, voiced support for the detained protesters in Shanghai, and called for greater civil liberties.

“We want freedom! We want freedom!” the crowd chanted under an overpass. 

In the southwestern metropolis of Chengdu, large crowds demonstrated along the bustling riverbanks in a popular food and shopping district, with protesters mourning the Xinjiang fire victims and then voicing their opposition to the Communist government. 

Hundreds of individuals in the southern city of Guangzhou gathered in the Hazihu district, the epicenter of the city’s ongoing Covid outbreak chanting against the country's strict lockdown policies and demanding freedom.

In the eastern province of Jiangsu, dozens of students from the Communication University of China, Nanjing, gathered on Saturday evening to mourn those who died in the Xinjiang fire. 

Videos show the students holding up sheets of white paper and mobile phone flashlights.

The protests breaking out throughout university campuses across China have many recalling the student-led Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests in 1989. 

On Twitter and other social media outlets, many found the videos of protests in China significant, calling on the world to pay attention to the events in Beijing and stand with the protesters.

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