BEIJING (AP) — Chinese universities sent students home and police were deployed in Beijing and Shanghai on Tuesday to prevent further protests as crowds angered by strict anti-virus restrictions called for leader Xi Jinping to step down. demanded. In the biggest show of public dissent in decades.
Authorities have eased some controls after protests in at least eight mainland cities and Hong Kong but have maintained they will stick to a “zero-COVID” strategy that has kept millions of people at bay for months at a time. confined to their homes. Security forces have detained an unknown number of people and increased surveillance.
After the police withdrew, there was no word of protests Tuesday in Beijing, Shanghai or other major mainland cities that were the scene of some of the most widespread demonstrations of the past weekend. Ever since the military crushed the student-led Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement in 1989.
In Hong Kong, about a dozen people, mostly from the mainland, protested at a university.
Beijing’s Tsinghua University, where students protested over the weekend, and other schools in the capital and the southern province of Guangdong sent students home. The schools said they were being protected from COVID-19, but dispersing them to distant hometowns also reduced the chances of further protests. Chinese leaders are wary of universities, which have been hotbeds of activism, including the Tiananmen protests.
On Sunday, Tsinghua students were told they could go home early for the semester. The school, which is XI’s alma mater, arranged for buses to take them to the train station or the airport.
Nine student dormitories in Tsinghua were closed on Monday after some students tested positive for Covid-19, according to one who noted that the closure would make crowd gathering difficult. The student chose only his surname for fear of retaliation by authorities.
Beijing Forestry University also said it would arrange for students to return home. He said his faculty and students all tested negative for the virus.
At least 10 universities have sent students home. Schools said classes and final exams will be conducted online.
Dali Yang, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Chicago, said authorities hoped to “de-escalate the situation” by evacuating the campus.
Depending on how hard the government takes a stand, groups may take turns protesting, he said.
Police appear to be trying to keep their crackdown out of sight, possibly to avoid drawing attention to the scale of the protests or encouraging others. Videos and posts related to the protests on Chinese social media were deleted by the ruling party’s vast online censorship apparatus.
No arrests were announced, although reporters saw protesters being led away by police, and authorities warned some detained protesters against demonstrating again.
In Shanghai, police stopped pedestrians on Monday night and checked their phones, according to a witness, possibly looking for apps like Twitter, which are banned in China, or images of protests. The witness, who insisted on anonymity for fear of arrest, said he was on his way to a protest but found no crowd when he arrived.
Images seen by The Associated Press of the protests over the weekend showed police herding people into cars. After the protests ended, some people were also burnt in police raids.
A man who lived near the site of the protest in Shanghai was detained Sunday and held until Tuesday morning, according to two friends who insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisals from authorities.
In Beijing, police on Monday met with a resident who attended the protest last night, according to a friend who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals. He said the police interrogated the resident and warned him not to protest further.
On Tuesday, protesters at Hong Kong University chanted slogans against virus restrictions and held up sheets of paper with critical slogans. Some spectators joined in their chants.
Protesters held signs that read, “Say No to the COVID Panic” and “Democracy, Not Dictatorship”.
One chanted: “We are not foreign forces, but your classmates.” Chinese officials often try to discredit domestic critics by saying they work for foreign powers.
“Zero COVID” That has helped keep the number of cases lower than in the United States and other major countries, but global health experts increasingly say that is unsustainable.
The head of the International Monetary Fund told The Associated Press that Beijing needs to be “very targeted” in its approach to easing the economic burden. In an interview on Tuesday
“We see the importance of moving away from a massive lockdown,” IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said in Berlin. “So targeting allows controlling the spread of COVID without significant economic costs.”
But economists and health experts have warned that Beijing may not relax controls that keep most travelers out of China until tens of millions of elderly people are vaccinated. They say this means “zero COVID” may not be achieved for another year.
On Tuesday, the National Health Commission announced plans to encourage seniors to get vaccinated through promotional campaigns, community centers and mobile vaccination sites to reach those who cannot leave home.
Public tolerance of the restrictions has eroded as some people under house arrest say they struggle to access food and medicine.
China’s Communist Party promised to ease restrictions last month, but a surge in infections has prompted cities to tighten controls.
Protests erupted over the weekend after at least 10 people were killed in the fire. In western China last week, which sparked angry questions online about whether the firefighters or victims were trying to escape, were blocked by anti-virus controls.
Most protesters complained about excessive restrictions, but some turned their anger on Xi, China’s most powerful leader since the 1980s.
In a video confirmed by The Associated Press, a crowd in Shanghai on Saturday chanted, “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!” Such direct criticism of Xi is unprecedented.
Demonstrations of sympathy have been held abroad, and foreign governments have called for restraint from Beijing.
“We support the right of people everywhere to peacefully protest, to express their views, their concerns, their frustrations,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blanken said during a visit to Bucharest, Romania.
Meanwhile, the British government summoned China’s ambassador to protest the arrest and beating of a BBC cameraman in Shanghai.
Foreign Secretary James Cleverley said media freedom was “a huge thing at the heart of Britain’s belief system.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian disputed the British version of events. Zhao said journalist Edward Lawrence failed to identify himself and accused the BBC of twisting the story.
Asked about criticism of the crackdown, Zhao defended Beijing’s anti-virus strategy and said the public’s legal rights were protected by law.
He said that the government is trying to provide maximum protection to people’s lives and health while minimizing the impact of COVID on social and economic development.
Wang Dan, a former student leader of the 1989 protests who is now living in exile, said the protests “marked the beginning of a new era in China … in which Chinese civil society decided not to remain silent and to confront oppression.” What is it.”
But he warned at a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan, that authorities would likely respond “with strong force to violently suppress the protests.” ___
Kang reported from Shanghai and Wu from Taipei, Taiwan. Associated Press writers Kenneth Leung in Hong Kong, Jill Lawless in London, David McHugh in Berlin, and Alan Nickmeier in Bucharest, Romania contributed.