Nov. 26 (Reuters) – Rare protests erupt in China’s far-western region of Xinjiang as crowds shout at guards in protective gear after a deadly fire sparks anger over their prolonged COVID-19 lockdown as infections across the country hit a record high. a new record.
Crowds chanted “Stop the lockdown!” , raising their fists in the air as they walked down a street, according to videos that circulated on Chinese social media on Friday evening. Reuters has verified that the footage was released from the Xinjiang capital, Urumqi.
Videos showed people in a square singing China’s national anthem with its lyric “Arise, those who refuse to be slaves!” Others shouted that they wanted to be released from the lockdown.
China has placed the vast region of Xinjiang under some of the country’s longest lockdowns, with many of Urumqi’s 4 million residents banned from leaving their homes for up to 100 days. The city reported about 100 new cases in the past two days.
Xinjiang is home to ten million Uighurs. Rights groups and Western governments have long accused Beijing of abuses against its Muslim ethnic minority, including forced labor in concentration camps. China firmly rejects such allegations.
The Urumqi protests came in the wake of a fire in a high-rise building there that killed 10 on Thursday night.
Authorities said residents of the building managed to go downstairs, but videos of the emergency teams’ efforts, shared on Chinese social media, led many netizens to believe residents could not escape in time because the building was partially locked.
Urumqi officials abruptly held a press conference in the early hours of Saturday, denying that coronavirus measures had impeded the escape and rescue, but said they would continue to investigate. Someone said that residents could have escaped faster if they understood fire safety better.
‘blame the victim’
Dali Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago, said such a “victim-blaming” attitude would only make people angrier. “Public confidence will only go down,” he told Reuters.
Users of China’s Weibo platform described the incident as a tragedy stemming from China’s insistence on sticking to its COVID-free policy and something that could happen to anyone. Some have lamented its similarities to September’s fatal COVID quarantine bus accident.
“There is nothing we can think of to make some changes,” said an article spread on WeChat on Friday, questioning the official version of the Urumqi apartment fire.
China defends President Xi Jinping’s policy of not spreading the coronavirus as lifesaving and necessary to prevent the healthcare system from being overwhelmed. Officials vowed to continue to do so despite growing public opposition and mounting losses on the world’s second-largest economy.
While the country has recently adjusted its measures, shortening quarantines and taking other targeted steps, this combined with rising cases has led to widespread confusion and uncertainty in major cities, including Beijing, where many residents are confined to their homes.
China recorded 34,909 local cases per day, low by global standards but the third consecutive record, with infections spreading to many cities, prompting widespread lockdowns and other restrictions on movement and business.
Shanghai, China’s most populous city and financial hub, tightened testing requirements on Saturday to enter cultural venues such as museums and libraries, requiring people to present a negative COVID test taken within 48 hours, down from 72 hours earlier.
Beijing’s Chaoyang Park, popular with runners and hikers, has closed again after briefly reopening.
(Reporting by Yu Lun Tian) Editing by William Mallard
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