Protests in China have increased in response to the government’s severe COVID regulations, with some citizens publicly venting their rage at Communist Party leaders.
Thousands of demonstrators have gathered in Shanghai, where the BBC reports that people are being bundled into police cars.
Students have also demonstrated at Beijing and Nanjing universities.
The current upheaval followed a protest in the isolated northwestern city of Urumqi, where lockdown measures were blamed after a tower block fire killed ten people.
While Chinese authorities denied that COVID limitations were to blame for the killings, Urumqi officials issued an extraordinary apology late Friday, promising to “establish order” by gradually eliminating restrictions.
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“Xi Jinping, please step down.”
People were heard openly screaming chants such as “Xi Jinping, step down” and “Communist Party, step down” during Saturday night’s protest in Shanghai, China’s largest metropolis and a worldwide financial center in the country’s east.
Some carried blank white banners, while others lighted candles and laid flowers for Urumqi’s victims.
Such demands are exceptional in China, where direct criticism of the government or the president can result in severe punishment.
Analysts believe the administration appears to have vastly miscalculated growing opposition to the zero-CO2 policy, which is intrinsically linked to Xi Jinping, who recently declared that there will be no deviation from it.
One protester in Shanghai told the BBC that he was “shocked and a little excited” to see so many people on the streets, calling it the first time he’d witnessed such widespread disagreement in China.
He claimed that lockdowns had left him feeling “sad, angry, and helpless” and that he had been unable to see his ailing mother, who was receiving cancer treatment.
According to a female protester, when police officers were asked how they felt about the protests, the response was “the same as you.” “They wear their uniforms, therefore they’re performing their job,” she explained.
Others reported violence, with one demonstrator telling the Associated Press that one of his friends was beaten by police on the scene, while two others were pepper sprayed.
People gathered again on Sunday to lay flowers for the victims of the Urumqi fire on Shanghai’s Wulumuqi Road.
These tributes, however, were gathered by the police, who were also present in large numbers at the protest site.
According to the BBC, police officials, private security guards, and plainclothes police officers were seen on the streets engaging demonstrators who had gathered for a second day.
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Demonstrators who led anti-government slogans were dragged away and, in some cases, assaulted or pushed up against a police cruiser.
On Saturday, photos and videos emerged online showing students initiating their own rallies at universities in Beijing and Nanjing.
According to one student, hundreds of individuals took part in a similar demonstration at the capital’s Tsinghua University.
The group was filmed screaming songs in support of freedom and democracy while holding up blank sheets of paper, a gesture that has become a symbol of defiance against Chinese censorship.
Independent verification of demonstration videos is difficult, but many of them depict unusually strong and outspoken criticism of the government and its leader.
According to other social media footage, hundreds of citizens took to the streets of Wuhan, the key city where the COVID outbreak originated, on Sunday. Some of the demonstrators are seen destroying barricades.