Protests Erupt in Shanghai and Other Chinese Cities Over Covid Controls

Protests spread to cities and campuses in China on Saturday night amid mounting public anger over the country’s strict but faltering controls against the spread of Covid, with crowds in Shanghai turning up to call for the ouster of the national leader. , Xi Jinping.

The demonstration came after a wave of online anger and after a street protest broke out on Friday in Urumqi, the regional capital of Xinjiang in western China, where at least 10 people were killed and nine others injured the day before. in a burned down apartment. Many Chinese say they suspect Covid restrictions prevented the dead from escaping their homes, despite government denials.

The tragedy has fueled broader calls for officials to ease China’s harsh regime of Covid testing, city lockdowns and movement restrictions three years into the pandemic.

The largest protest on Saturday appeared to have occurred in Shanghai, where college and university students were among hundreds of people who gathered at an intersection of Urumqi Road, named for the Xinjiang city, to mourn the dead with candles and banners. . The number grew, defying police efforts to contain the crowd, and chants broke out, with people calling for a relaxation of covid controls, video footage showed.

“We want freedom” the protesters chanted.

They used obscene language to denounce the demand that residents check in with a Covid phone app in public places like stores and parks. As the ranks of policemen looked on, some in the crowd they directed their anger at Mr. Xia rare act of political defiance that likely alarmed Communist Party officials, prompting more stringent censorship and surveillance.

“Xi Jinping!” A man in the crowd yelled repeatedly.

“Reduce!” some chanted in response.

Last month, Xi won a groundbreaking third term as general secretary of the Communist Party, cementing his status as China’s most powerful leader in decades. He has also filled a new national leadership lineup with loyal officials, and his hold on power seems secure.

But the night of public anger indicated that Xi’s strict covid policies, heralded as a success for China after the pandemic spread globally from there in early 2020, have increasingly become a liability. Covid controls have affected restaurants, tour operators and other small businesses, adding to China’s recent economic slowdown.

It also seems likely that the outburst of discontent will add pressure to the Chinese government’s efforts to maintain a “dynamic zero covid” policy. This month, the government announced measures to ease restrictions that have made travel and business difficult for many residents. But local authorities are still under pressure to keep infections close to zero, leading to confusion and rule changes.

The deadly fire in Urumqi seemed to crystallize public anger at such pressure.

“Before, I felt like I was a coward, but now at this moment I feel like I can stand up,” a young man who said he was from Xinjiang. told a meeting at a campus of the Communication University of China in Nanjing, eastern China, according to a video posted online and whose location was verified by The Times. Hundreds held up their phones like burning candles.

“I speak for my region of origin, I speak for those friends who lost family and relatives in the fire disaster and,” he added, “for those who died.”

muyi xiao Y Zixu Wang contributed reporting.