Huge COVID protests erupt in China’s Xinjiang after deadly fire

Nov 26 (Reuters) – Unprecedented protests erupted in China’s far-western Xinjiang region, with crowds shouting at security guards in hazmat suits after a deadly fire sparked anger over their prolonged COVID-19 lockdown. given as nationwide infections set another record.

According to videos circulating on Chinese social media Friday night, crowds chanted “End the lockdown!” chanted, pumping their fists in the air as they marched down the street. Reuters confirmed that the footage was published from Urumqi, the capital of Xinjiang.

Videos show people in a plaza singing China’s national anthem with the lyrics, “Rise up, people who refuse to be slaves!” While others shouted that they wanted to be released from the lockdown.

China has put the vast Xinjiang region under the country’s longest lockdown, with many of Urumqi’s four million residents barred from leaving their homes for up to 100 days. Around 100 new cases were reported in the city in the last two days.

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Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uighurs. Human rights groups and Western governments have long accused Beijing of abuses against the predominantly Muslim ethnic minority, including forced labor in concentration camps. China strongly rejects such claims.

The protests in Urumqi took place on Thursday night after a fire broke out in a high-rise building that killed 10 people.

Officials have said residents of the building were able to get down, but videos of emergency crews’ efforts, which were shared on Chinese social media, led many netizens to believe the building was partially destroyed. Due to the closure, residents cannot escape in time.

Urumqi officials held an impromptu news conference early Saturday, denying that the COVID measures had hindered the escape and rescue but said they would investigate further. One said residents could have escaped faster if they had better understood fire safety.

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‘Blame the victim’

Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of Chicago, said such a “blame the victim” attitude would make people angry. “Public confidence will just sink lower,” he told Reuters.

Users of China’s Weibo platform described the incident as a tragedy that arose out of China’s insistence on sticking to its zero-COVID policy and that could happen to anyone. Some lamented its similarity to the fatal crash of a COVID quarantine bus in September.

“Isn’t there something we can consider making some changes,” an article that went viral on WeChat on Friday said, questioning the official narrative surrounding the Urumqi apartment fire.

China has defended President Xi Jinping’s signature zero-COVID policy as necessary to save lives and maximize the health care system. Officials have vowed to continue despite growing public pushback and the mounting toll on the world’s second-largest economy.

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While the country has recently made changes to its measures, shortening quarantines and taking other targeted measures, the growing number of cases has created widespread confusion and uncertainty in major cities, including Beijing, where many Residents are locked in their homes.

China recorded 34,909 local cases per day, low by global standards but the third record in a row, with infections spreading across multiple cities, prompting widespread lockdowns and other restrictions on movement and business.

China’s most populous city and financial hub Shanghai on Saturday tightened testing requirements for entry to cultural sites such as museums and libraries, requiring people to present a negative COVID test within 48 hours. required, which is less than 72 hours ago.

Beijing’s Chaoyang Park, popular with joggers and picnickers, closed again after briefly reopening.

Reporting by Yeo Lin Tian; Edited by William Mallard

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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