Law enforcement officers were deployed in large numbers across China‘s major cities on Monday to preempt further anti-government demonstrations like the ones that rocked the country over the weekend.
At busy intersections in Shanghai, for instance, where hundreds of residents clashed with authorities over China’s strict COVID regulations, witnesses reported several police vans on site, while sidewalks were barricaded to prevent pedestrian access to roads.
At one pedestrian crossing, a group of uniformed police officers whisked away a would-be protester in front of other members of the public, one foreign journalist said in a tweet. Newsweek wasn’t able to independently verify the footage, while Shanghai police couldn’t be reached for comment.
Social media footage from elsewhere in China depicted similar scenes. In the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the location of another sizable demonstration on Sunday, metal fences that had been torn down by frustrated citizens were quietly rebuilt.
As Beijing activated its vast policing apparatus to prevent further protests, China’s oil and stock prices fell sharply when markets opened on Monday morning. Investors, it seems, remain uncertain about how the government will respond to the public’s grievances—by tightening or loosening pandemic controls.
The three days of mass unrest, the scale of which hasn’t been seen in several years, began on Friday after an apartment fire the previous night in Urumqi, capital of China’s northwestern Xinjiang region, resulted in the deaths of 10 people.
Millions in Xinjiang, which is home to Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minority groups, have been living under lockdown for some three months. Thursday’s blaze was said to have been worsened by the city’s unyielding COVID rules, which saw victims locked inside their building and rescuers delayed by traffic obstacles.
As news of the fire spread across the Chinese internet, many believed the tragedy was avoidable. Voices of discontent surged online, before the frustration spilled out onto the streets in a rare display of open opposition to the government’s policies.
Three years into the pandemic, China is the only major economy still trying to stamp out each outbreak as part of an approach known as “dynamic zero COVID.” Before major protests erupted over the weekend, residents in a number of cities had already pushed back against what they believed were excessive controls.
President Xi Jinping‘s signature public health strategy successfully contained COVID and may have prevented millions of deaths, but the continuing tight restrictions are being tested by record case numbers, which have necessitated the lockdown of hundreds of millions of residents, whose livelihoods have come under serious threat.
As demonstrations reached boiling point on Sunday, resulting in clashes with police, most demanded an end to China’s unrelenting COVID rules. Others, however, took the opportunity to ask for more.
Student protesters on dozens of university campuses called on Beijing to roll back the China’s diminishing space for public dissent, which is often muted by the country’s censors. On the streets, some also demanded the resignation of Xi, who was reelected for an unprecedented third term in October on achievements including successful domestic governance.
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