China Xinjiang: Protests against the Covid lockdown in Urumqi following a fatal fire - GH LENSE

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China Xinjiang: Protests against the Covid lockdown in Urumqi following a fatal fire

China Xinjiang: Protests against the Covid lockdown in Urumqi following a fatal fire

Image: reuters

 After a fire in an apartment building claimed the lives of ten people, videos uploaded on social media in China appeared to depict new protests over COVID regulations.

People may be seen in Urumqi assaulting police, crashing through a fence, and yelling "stop the Covid lockdown."

In spite of a strict zero-Covid policy, infections have reached new highs in China.

Authorities in Urumqi have now pledged to gradually remove the restrictions, though they dispute that they prevented anyone from fleeing the fire on Thursday.

Since early August, there have been restrictions in place in the city, which serves as the regional capital of western Xinjiang.

After the tragedy, a resident informed the BBC that residents of the burned-out enclave had been mostly banned from leaving their homes.

Chinese state media has refuted that. Authorities in Urumqi did, however, issue an extraordinary apology late on Friday, promising to punish anyone who disobeyed orders.

Residents were seen congregating on city streets after dark in footage that was released on Friday night, many of them wearing masks.

They were observed singing, fist-pumping, and yelling at the authorities. The Reuters news service confirmed the location.

In one video, a protester uses a megaphone to shout, and in another, a throng smashes through a barricade being watched by city personnel in safety gear.

On Friday night, the BBC kept an eye on live broadcasts that looked to show demonstrators assembled on the steps of a municipal building.

The internet is heavily censored in China, and references to the Urumqi protests had largely been taken down by Saturday morning.

Local media said Thursday's deadly blaze at the Urumqi apartment block - which also injured nine people - appeared to have been caused by a fault with an electrical extension.

Online posts have suggested that firefighting efforts were hindered by Covid restrictions.

This has been denied by city officials, who sought to blame parked vehicles for stopping firefighters' access to the burning building.

In a press conference on Saturday morning, they announced a phased easing of lockdown conditions in parts of Urumqi deemed low-risk.

They did not refer to the demonstrations, but said that Covid cases in the community had been largely cleared and that "order" would be restored to the lives of the city's residents.

Large-scale, disruptive protests are rare in China, although there has been mounting public dissent aimed at Beijing's zero-Covid strategy.

This is the last policy of its kind among the world's major economies, and is partly due to the country's relatively low vaccination levels and an effort to protect elderly people.

Snap lockdowns have caused anger across the country - and Covid restrictions more broadly have trigged recent violent protests from Zhengzhou to Guangzhou.

In spite of the stringent measures, China's case numbers this week hit all-time records since the pandemic began.

The Xinjiang region is home to many Uyghurs, against whom the Chinese government has been accused of committing numerous human rights abuses - something it denies.

Source: BBC


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