Nov 26 (Reuters) - Public anger in China towards
widening COVID-19 lockdowns across the country erupted into rare
protests in Chinas far western Xinjiang region and the
country's capital of Beijing, as nationwide infections set
Crowds took to the streets on Friday night in Xinjiang's
capital of Urumqi, chanting "End the lockdown!" and pumping
their fists in the air, after a deadly fire on Thursday
triggered anger over their prolonged COVID-19 lockdown according
to videos circulated on Chinese social media on Friday night.
Videos showed people in a plaza singing China's national
anthem with its lyric, "Rise up, those who refuse to be slaves!"
while others shouted that they wanted to be released from
Reuters verified that the footage was published from Urumqi,
where many of its 4 million residents have been under some of
the country's longest lockdowns, barred from leaving their homes
for as long as 100 days.
In the capital of Beijing 2,700 km (1,678 miles) away, some
residents under lockdown staged small-scale protests or
confronted their local officials over movement restrictions
placed on them, with some successfully pressuring them into
lifting them ahead of a schedule.
A crucial spark for the public anger was a fire in a
high-rise building in Urumqi that killed 10 on Thursday night,
whose case went viral on social media as many internet users
surmised that residents could not escape in time because the
building was partially locked down.
Urumqi officials abruptly held a news conference in the
early hours of Saturday to deny COVID measures had hampered
escape and rescue, but internet users continued to question the
"The Urumqi fire got everyone in the country upset," said
Sean Li, a resident in Beijing.
A planned lockdown for his compound "Berlin Aiyue" was
called off on Friday after residents protested to their local
leader and convinced him to cancel it, negotiations that were
captured by a video posted on social media.
The residents had caught wind of the plan after seeing
workers putting barriers on their gates. "That tragedy could
have happened to any of us," he said.
By Saturday evening, at least ten other compounds lifted
lockdown before the announced end-date after residents
complained, according to a Reuters tally of social media posts
A separate video shared with Reuters showed Beijing
residents in an unidentifiable part of the city marching around
an open-air carpark on Saturday, shouting "End the lockdown".
The Beijing government did not immediately respond to a
request for comment on Saturday.
ASKING TOUGH QUESTIONS
Dali Yang, a political scientist at the University of
Chicago, said the comments from authorities that the residents
of the Urumqi building had been able to go downstairs and thus
escape was likely to have been perceived as victim-blaming and
further fuelled public anger.
"During the first two years of COVID, people trusted the
government to make the best decisions to keep them safe from the
virus. Now people are increasingly asking tough questions and
are wary about following orders," Yang said.
Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uyghurs. Rights groups and
Western governments have long accused Beijing of abuses against
the mainly Muslim ethnic minority, including forced labour in
internment camps. China strongly rejects such claims.
China defends President Xi Jinping's signature zero-COVID
policy as life-saving and necessary to prevent overwhelming the
healthcare system. Officials have vowed to continue with it
despite the growing public pushback and its mounting toll on the
world's second-biggest economy.
China said on Friday it would cut the amount of cash that
banks must hold as reserves for the second time this year,
releasing liquidity to prop up a faltering economy.
The next few weeks could be the worst in China since the
early weeks of the pandemic both for the economy and the
healthcare system, Mark Williams of Capital Economics said in
note this week, as efforts to contain the current outbreak will
require additional localised lockdowns in many cities, which
will further depress economic activity.
For Friday, the country recorded 34,909 daily local cases,
low by global standards but the third record in a row, with
infections spreading numerous cities, prompting widespread
lockdowns and other curbs on movement and business.
Shanghai, China's most populous city and financial hub which
endured a two month lockdown earlier this year, tightened
testing requirements on Saturday for entering cultural venues
such as museums and libraries, requiring people to present a
negative COVID test taken within 48 hours, down from 72 hours
(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by William Mallard, Brenda
Goh and Louise Heavens)