Covid protests intensify in Guangzhou as anger over China’s lockdown boils

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SHANGHAI (AP) — People in Guangzhou’s Chinese manufacturing hub clashed with white riot police officers in hazmat suits Tuesday night, online videos showed, in the latest in a series of protests that took place intensified over the weekend due to the strict confinements by the covid-19.

The clashes, which follow protests in Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere, erupted as China records a record number of Covid cases daily and health officials, including in the southern region around Guangzhou, announced a slight relaxation of lockdowns. restrictions.

Mainland China’s biggest wave of civil disobedience since the Tiananmen protests of 1989 comes as its economy is reeling after growing at breakneck pace for decades.

That era of prosperity was central to the social contract between the Communist Party and a population whose freedoms have been dramatically curtailed since President Xi Jinping took power 10 years ago.

In a video posted to Twitter, dozens of riot police dressed in all-white pandemic gear, with shields over their heads, advanced in formation over what appeared to be torn down blockade barriers as objects flew their way.

Police were later seen escorting a line of handcuffed people to an unknown location.

Another video clip showed people throwing objects at police, while a third showed a tear gas canister landing in the middle of a small crowd on a narrow street, with people then running to escape the gas.

Reuters verified that the videos were filmed in Guangzhou’s Haizhu district, the scene of Covid-related unrest two weeks ago, but could not determine when the videos were taken or the exact sequence of events and what sparked the clashes.

People throw objects at police officers in Guangzhou.Twitter

Posts on social media said the clashes took place on Tuesday night and were caused by a dispute over lockdown restrictions.

The government of Guangzhou, a city hit hard by the latest wave of infections, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The China Dissent Monitor, run by the US government-funded Freedom House, estimated that at least 27 demonstrations took place in China between Saturday and Monday. Australia’s ASPI think tank estimated 43 protests in 22 cities.

curb relaxation

Home to many migrant factory workers, Guangzhou is a sprawling port city north of Hong Kong in Guangdong province, where officials announced Tuesday night they would allow close contacts of Covid cases to self-quarantine. at home instead of being forced to go to shelters.

The decision broke with the usual practice of China’s zero covid policy.

In Zhengzhou, the site of a large Foxconn factory that makes Apple iPhones that has been the scene of worker unrest over Covid, officials announced the “orderly” resumption of business, including supermarkets, gyms and restaurants.

However, they also posted a long list of buildings that would remain closed.

Hours before those announcements, national health officials said Tuesday that China would respond to “urgent concerns” raised by the public and that Covid rules should be implemented more flexibly, according to conditions in each region.

But while the easing of some measures appears to be an attempt to appease the public, authorities have also begun searching for those who have been at recent protests.

“The police came to my doorstep to ask me about everything and make me fill out a written record,” a Beijing resident who declined to be named told Reuters on Wednesday.

Another resident said that some friends who posted videos of protests on social media were taken to a police station and asked to sign a promise that they “wouldn’t do that again.”

It was not clear how authorities identified the people they wanted to question, nor how many of those people authorities contacted.

The Beijing Public Security Bureau had no comment.

On Wednesday, several police cars and security personnel lined up on a bridge in eastern Beijing where a protest had been held three days earlier.

‘Hostile forces’

In a statement that did not refer to the protests, the Communist Party’s top law enforcement body said late Tuesday that China would crack down on “the infiltration and sabotage activities of hostile forces.”

The Central Commission for Political and Legal Affairs also said that “illegal and criminal acts that disturb the social order” would not be tolerated.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has said that rights and freedoms must be exercised within the law.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Tuesday that protesters in China should not be harmed.

Covid has spread despite China largely cutting itself off from the world, demanding significant sacrifices of hundreds of millions to comply with relentless testing and prolonged isolation, three years into the pandemic.

While infection and death numbers are low by global standards, analysts say a reopening before vaccination rates increase could lead to widespread illness and death and overwhelm hospitals.

The lockdowns have battered the economy, disrupting global supply chains and roiling financial markets.

Data on Wednesday showed China’s manufacturing and services activity for November posted the lowest readings since Shanghai’s two-month lockdown began in April.

Chinese stocks were flat, with markets weighing endemic economic weakness against hopes that public pressure could push China to eventually reopen.

The head of the International Monetary Fund, Kristalina Georgieva, signaled a possible downgrade in China’s growth forecasts.

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