https://inews.co.uk/news/world/chinese-covid-protests-police-backlash-1997459

Chinese police are cracking down on protests that have spread across the country, with reports of arrests and people being forced to delete photos of the demonstrations.

Barriers were installed in central Shanghai on Monday to prevent further gatherings, after a wave of public protests in Chinese cities aimed at Covid-19 restrictions – and in some cases the Chinese government.

Crowds gathered in the capital, Beijing, on Sunday night and Monday morning as a rare outbreak of widespread public dissent continued. Protesters chanted “need freedom” and “want to work” – reflecting growing discontent at Covid restrictions that remain in China as the rest of the world has reopened.

Chinese protesters have also called for the ruling Communist Party and its leader, Xi Jinping, to step down.

Activists posted photos on social media of themselves holding blank sheets of paper in solidarity with the protests. Hashtags associated with the movement were blocked on Chinese social network, Weibo, on Sunday.

Police stand guard during a protest in Shanghai (Photo: Reuters)

Covid measures have confined millions of Chinese people to quarantines and forced the closure of many businesses.

The historic wave of protests in China began on Thursday after a fire in Xinjiang province killed 10 people, amid allegations that firefighters were hampered by Covid restrictions. Angry crowds targeted infrastructure for controlling the virus in the aftermath of the fire.

Demonstrations have since spread to several Chinese cities in a rare show of widespread defiance to the regime. At a demonstration in Shanghai, chants of “Xi Jinping, step down” were heard.

The president, who was recently returned for a third term in power, has faced little public criticism over almost nine years in power.

A fire truck shoots water at a burning residential building in Urumqi, Xinjiang, China in this still image obtained from undated social media video released November 24, 2022. The fire killed 10 people and was a catalyst for nationwide protests against COVID-19 lockdowns. Video obtained by REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
Aftermath of the deadly fire in Xinjiang province (Photo: Reuters)

“We want to live a normal life,” a protester in Shanghai told Reuters. “I think we should all bravely express our feelings. I don’t know the impact this will bring, but these actions will inspire people around us to express their appeals and protect their own rights.”

As protests continue, the Chinese state has moved to restore order. A heavy police presence moved to disperse crowds in Shanghai and Beijing with several arrests. Protesters were reportedly taken away on a bus.

Photographers were prevented from taking pictures, and in some cases police forced them to delete photos.

BBC journalist Ed Lawrence was reportedly “beaten and kicked” as he was arrested in Shanghai. A spokesman for the Chinese government said the journalist failed to properly identify himself.

Business Secretary, Grant Shapps, said the UK Government was watching events in China with “concern”.

More on China

Amnesty International has called on the Chinese government to respect the right to peaceful protest. Solidarity rallies have been held in cities around the world, including Tokyo and Sydney.

China has moved to address public concerns by easing Covid measures, such as shortening the length of mandatory quarantine.

The city government of Beijing announced on Monday that it would no longer set up barriers to access to apartment compounds where infections are found.

Local authorities in Xinjiang announced plans to resume public transport services and reopen some businesses in low risk areas of the province.

But cases of the virus continue to soar, with 40,052 reported on Monday – a fifth consecutive daily record.

Public dissatisfaction over Covid restrictions has been further fueled by broadcasts from the Fifa World Cup, which show crowds watching the football without masks.

China has reportedly responded by reducing the footage of crowds on state TV.

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