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China Covid: Protesters openly urge Xi to resign over China Covid curbs

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Protests in China against government’s strict Covid measures have intensified, with some people publicly venting their anger at the Communist Party leaders.

Thousands of protesters have turned out in Shanghai, where the BBC has seen people bundled into police cars.

Students have also demonstrated at universities in Beijing and Nanjing.

The latest unrest follows a protest in the remote north-west city of Urumqi, where lockdown rules were blamed after 10 people died in a tower block fire.

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While Chinese authorities deny that Covid restrictions caused the deaths, officials in Urumqi did issue an unusual apology late on Friday, and pledged to “restore order” by phasing out restrictions.

‘Xi Jinping, step down’

During Saturday night’s protest in Shanghai – China’s biggest city and a global financial hub in the east of the country – people were heard openly shouting slogans such as “Xi Jinping, step down” and “Communist party, step down”.

Some held blank white banners, while other lit candles and laid flowers for the victims in Urumqi.

But analysts say the government appears to have drastically underestimated growing discontent towards the zero-Covid approach, a policy inextricably linked to Xi Jinping who recently pledged there would be no swerving from it.

 

One protester in Shanghai told the BBC that he felt “shocked and a bit excited” to see people out on the streets, calling it the first time he’d seen such large-scale dissent in China.

He said lockdowns made him feel “sad, angry and hopeless”, and had left him unable to see his unwell mother, who was undergoing cancer treatment.

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Others gave accounts of violence, with one protester telling the Associated Press news agency one of his friends had been beaten by police at the scene, while two others had been pepper sprayed.

People gathered again Sunday, laying flowers for the Urumqi fire victims in the area of Shanghai’s Wulumuqi Road.

However, these tributes were gathered up by police, who also attended the protest site en masse.

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Police officers confront a man amid crowded scenes at a road junction in ShanghaiIMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
Image caption,
Police confronted protesters who gathered for a second day in Shanghai on Sunday
Wearing fluorescent jackets and face masks, a row of police officers stand watch behind a cordonIMAGE SOURCE,GETTY IMAGES
Image caption,
There has been a large security presence around Urumqi Road, where people attempted to lay floral tributes for fire victims in Urumqi

The BBC saw police officers, private security guards and plain-clothed police officers on the streets, confronting protesters who assembled for a second day.

Photos and videos have also emerged online that showed students launching their own protests at universities in Beijing and Nanjing on Saturday.

Hundreds of people took part in one such demonstration in Tsinghua University in the capital, one student told the AFP news agency.

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The group held up blank sheets of paper – an act which has become a symbol of defiance against Chinese censorship – and were filmed chanting songs in support of freedom and democracy.

Videos of the protests are difficult to independently verify, but many of them show an unusually explicit and outspoken criticism of the government and its leader.

On Sunday, hundreds of residents took to the streets of the central city of Wuhan – where the Covid pandemic began, according to other videos posted on social media. Some of the protesters are pictured knocking down barricades.

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