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China police crack down on protests over President Xi’s ‘zero-Covid’ strategy

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hinese police were out in force in Beijing and Shanghai on Tuesday to prevent more protests against Covid curbs which have disrupted the lives of millions, damaged the economy and sparked rare calls for President Xi Jinping to step down.

At least one person in the city of Hangzhou was arrested late on Monday, according to social media videos, after reports a busload of demonstrators were taken away by police during Sunday night protests in Shanghai.

Simmering discontent with the ruling Communist Party’s “zero Covid” approach three years into the pandemic ignited into broader protests in cities thousands of miles apart throughout the weekend.

Mainland China’s biggest wave of civil disobedience since Mr Xi took power a decade ago comes as the number of Covid cases hit record highs daily and large parts of several cities face a new round of lockdowns.

China’s president Xi Jinping sits besides Premier Li Keqiang as former president Hu Jintao at the Communist Party conference

/ AFP / Getty

Authorities eased some regulations, apparently to try to quell public rage, with the city government of Beijing announcing it would no longer set up gates to block access to apartment compounds where infections are found.

But the government is showing no sign of backing down on its larger coronavirus strategy, and analysts expect authorities to quickly silence the dissent.

Rishi Sunak has supported the protestors and called China’s actions a “systemic challenge to our values and interests”. The British prime minister’s words signalled the ‘golden era’ of relations between the two countries, that saw David Cameron and Mr Xi famously go to the pub, was at an end.

Police vehicles are seen next to Wulumuqi road, named for Urumqi in Mandarin, in Shanghai

/ AFP via Getty Images

In Hong Kong on Monday, about 50 students from mainland China sang at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Some lit candles in a show of support for those in mainland cities who demonstrated against restrictions that have confined millions to their homes.

Hiding their faces to avoid official retaliation, the students chanted “No PCR tests but freedom!” and “Oppose dictatorship, don’t be slaves”.

“I’ve wanted to speak up for a long time, but I did not get the chance to,” said James Cai, a 29-year-old from Shanghai who attended a Hong Kong protest and held up a piece of white paper, a symbol of defiance against the ruling party’s pervasive censorship. “If people in the mainland can’t tolerate it anymore, then I cannot as well.”

Chinese universities were said on Tuesday to be sending students home to prevent more protests with classes and final exams to be conducted online. Some institutions even arranged buses to take students to train stations.

Authorities have so far not commented on a fire last week in Urumqi that killed at least 10 people and prompted angry questions online about whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other anti-virus controls.

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