Nov 26 (Reuters) – Sporadic protests have erupted in China’s far western Xinjiang region, with crowds chanting at hazmat-suited guards after a deadly fire sparked anger over their long-term COVID-19 lockdown, with infections hitting another record nationwide.
According to a video posted on Chinese social media Friday night, crowds of people walking down the street raised their hands in the air and chanted, “Stop the lockdown!” They sang. Reuters confirmed that the image was published from Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.
People chanted the Chinese national anthem in a square, chanting, “Rise up those who refuse to be slaves!” Others shouted that they wanted out of the key.
China has placed the vast Xinjiang region under some of the country’s longest lockdowns, with many of Urumqi’s 4 million residents barred from leaving their homes for up to 100 days. The city has reported nearly 100 new cases in each of the past two days.
Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uighurs. Rights groups and Western governments have accused Beijing of abuses of mainly Muslim minorities, including labor in forced labor camps. China strongly disputes such claims.
The Urumqi protests followed a high-rise fire that killed 10 people on Thursday night.
Officials said the building’s occupants were able to get down, but videos of emergency workers’ efforts circulated on Chinese social media led many netizens to speculate that the building was partially sealed off and the occupants were unable to escape in time.
Urumqi officials held an impromptu news conference early Saturday, denying any escapes and rescues due to COVID measures, but said they would investigate further. One is that if the residents had a better understanding of fire safety, they could have escaped quickly.
‘Blame the victim’
Dali Young, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, says such a “victim man” attitude makes people even more angry. “Public confidence will go down,” he told Reuters.
Users on the Chinese Weibo platform described the incident as China’s insistence on its zero-covid policy and a tragedy that could happen to anyone. Some have lamented the parallels to the deadly crash on a Covid isolation bus in September.
Questioning the official narrative on the Urumqi apartment fire, a post posted on WeChat on Friday asked, “Shouldn’t we consider making some changes?” he said .
China sees President Xi Jinping’s signature zero-covid policy as vital to save lives and prevent overcrowding of the healthcare system. Despite public pressure and mounting damage to the world’s second-largest economy, officials have vowed to get on with it.
As the country has recently adjusted its measures, shortening quarantines and taking other targeted measures, this, combined with a growing number of cases, has created widespread confusion and unrest in major cities, including Beijing, where many residents have been confined to their homes.
China recorded 34,909 daily local cases, a global low but the third record in a row, as infections spread across many cities, prompting widespread shutdowns and other disruptions to movement and business.
Shanghai, China’s most populous city and financial hub, on Saturday tightened testing requirements to enter cultural sites such as museums and libraries, requiring people to present a negative COVID test taken within 48 hours, up from 72 hours previously.
Beijing’s Chaoyang Park, popular with runners and picnickers, has closed again after a brief reopening.
Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Edited by William Mallard
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