Crowd angered by lockdowns calls for China’s Xi to step down

Nov 26, 2022, 11:10 AM | Updated: Nov 27, 2022, 10:10 am
Protesters hold up blank papers and chant slogans as they march in protest in Beijing, Sunday, Nov....

Protesters hold up blank papers and chant slogans as they march in protest in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protesters angered by strict anti-virus measures called for China's powerful leader to resign, an unprecedented rebuke as authorities in at least eight cities struggled to suppress demonstrations Sunday that represent a rare direct challenge to the ruling Communist Party. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

              Protesters hold up blank papers and chant slogans as they march in protest in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protesters angered by strict anti-virus measures called for China's powerful leader to resign, an unprecedented rebuke as authorities in at least eight cities struggled to suppress demonstrations Sunday that represent a rare direct challenge to the ruling Communist Party. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
            
              Chinese policemen form a line to stop protesters marching in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protesters angered by strict anti-virus measures called for China's powerful leader to resign, an unprecedented rebuke as authorities in at least eight cities struggled to suppress demonstrations Sunday that represent a rare direct challenge to the ruling Communist Party. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
            
              A protestor holds up a blank paper and chant slogans during a march in protest in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protesters angered by strict anti-virus measures called for China's powerful leader to resign, an unprecedented rebuke as authorities in at least eight cities struggled to suppress demonstrations Sunday that represent a rare direct challenge to the ruling Communist Party. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
            
              A man wearing a face mask carries a box with groceries as he leaves a supermarket in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              Residents mourn for the victims of a recent deadly fire at a residential building in Urumqi city at a road sign of the Middle Wulumuqi Road or Middle Urumqi Rd in Shanghai, China Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. Protests against China's restrictive COVID-19 measures appeared to roil in a number of cities Saturday night, in displays of public defiance fanned by anger over a deadly fire in the western Xinjiang region. (Chinatopix Via AP)
            
              Chinese police officers block off access to a site where protesters had gathered in Shanghai on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict "zero-COVID" policies resurfaced in Shanghai and Beijing on Sunday afternoon, continuing a round of demonstrations that have spread across the country since a deadly apartment fire in the northwestern city of Urumqi led to questions over such rigid anti-virus measures. (AP Photo)
            
              Chinese police officers block off access to a site where protesters had gathered in Shanghai on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict "zero-COVID" policies resurfaced in Shanghai and Beijing on Sunday afternoon, continuing a round of demonstrations that have spread across the country since a deadly apartment fire in the northwestern city of Urumqi led to questions over such rigid anti-virus measures. (AP Photo)
            
              Protesters hold up blank papers and chant slogans as they march in protest in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protesters angered by strict anti-virus measures called for China's powerful leader to resign, an unprecedented rebuke as authorities in at least eight cities struggled to suppress demonstrations Sunday that represent a rare direct challenge to the ruling Communist Party. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
            
              Chinese policemen form a line to stop protesters marching in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protesters angered by strict anti-virus measures called for China's powerful leader to resign, an unprecedented rebuke as authorities in at least eight cities struggled to suppress demonstrations Sunday that represent a rare direct challenge to the ruling Communist Party. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
            
              Protesters hold up blank papers and chant slogans as they march in protest in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protesters angered by strict anti-virus measures called for China's powerful leader to resign, an unprecedented rebuke as authorities in at least eight cities struggled to suppress demonstrations Sunday that represent a rare direct challenge to the ruling Communist Party. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
            
              A man wearing a face mask carries a box with groceries as he leaves a supermarket in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              Residents mourn for the victims of a recent deadly fire at a residential building in Urumqi city at a road sign of the Middle Wulumuqi Road or Middle Urumqi Rd in Shanghai, China Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. Protests against China's restrictive COVID-19 measures appeared to roil in a number of cities Saturday night, in displays of public defiance fanned by anger over a deadly fire in the western Xinjiang region. (Chinatopix Via AP)
            
              People mourn for the victims of a recent deadly fire at a residential building in Urumqi city at a road sign of the Middle Wulumuqi Road or Middle Urumqi Rd in Shanghai, China Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. Protests against China's restrictive COVID-19 measures appeared to roil in a number of cities Saturday night, in displays of public defiance fanned by anger over a deadly fire in the western Xinjiang region. (Chinatopix Via AP)
            
              Chinese police officers block off access to a site where protesters had gathered in Shanghai on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict "zero-COVID" policies resurfaced in Shanghai and Beijing on Sunday afternoon, continuing a round of demonstrations that have spread across the country since a deadly apartment fire in the northwestern city of Urumqi led to questions over such rigid anti-virus measures. (AP Photo)
            
              Chinese police officers block off access to a site where protesters had gathered in Shanghai on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict "zero-COVID" policies resurfaced in Shanghai and Beijing on Sunday afternoon, continuing a round of demonstrations that have spread across the country since a deadly apartment fire in the northwestern city of Urumqi led to questions over such rigid anti-virus measures. (AP Photo)
            
              Residents look out from barriers around the recently locked down Haizhu district in Guangzhou in southern China's Guangdong province Friday, Nov. 11, 2022. As the country reported 10,729 new COVID cases on Friday, more than 5 million people were under lockdown in the southern manufacturing hub Guangzhou and the western megacity Chongqing. (AP Photo)
            
              Chinese police officers block off access to a site where protesters had gathered in Shanghai on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict "zero-COVID" policies resurfaced in Shanghai and Beijing on Sunday afternoon, continuing a round of demonstrations that have spread across the country since a deadly apartment fire in the northwestern city of Urumqi led to questions over such rigid anti-virus measures. (AP Photo)
            
              A man wearing a face mask carries a box with groceries as he leaves a supermarket in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              Residents mourn for the victims of a recent deadly fire at a residential building in Urumqi city at a road sign of the Middle Wulumuqi Road or Middle Urumqi Rd in Shanghai, China Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. Protests against China's restrictive COVID-19 measures appeared to roil in a number of cities Saturday night, in displays of public defiance fanned by anger over a deadly fire in the western Xinjiang region. (Chinatopix Via AP)
            
              People mourn for the victims of a recent deadly fire at a residential building in Urumqi city at a road sign of the Middle Wulumuqi Road or Middle Urumqi Rd in Shanghai, China Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. Protests against China's restrictive COVID-19 measures appeared to roil in a number of cities Saturday night, in displays of public defiance fanned by anger over a deadly fire in the western Xinjiang region. (Chinatopix Via AP)
            
              Chinese police officers block off access to a site where protesters had gathered in Shanghai on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict "zero-COVID" policies resurfaced in Shanghai and Beijing on Sunday afternoon, continuing a round of demonstrations that have spread across the country since a deadly apartment fire in the northwestern city of Urumqi led to questions over such rigid anti-virus measures. (AP Photo)
            
              Chinese police officers block off access to a site where protesters had gathered in Shanghai on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict "zero-COVID" policies resurfaced in Shanghai and Beijing on Sunday afternoon, continuing a round of demonstrations that have spread across the country since a deadly apartment fire in the northwestern city of Urumqi led to questions over such rigid anti-virus measures. (AP Photo)
            
              Residents look out from barriers around the recently locked down Haizhu district in Guangzhou in southern China's Guangdong province Friday, Nov. 11, 2022. As the country reported 10,729 new COVID cases on Friday, more than 5 million people were under lockdown in the southern manufacturing hub Guangzhou and the western megacity Chongqing. (AP Photo)
            
              Chinese police officers block off access to a site where protesters had gathered in Shanghai on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict "zero-COVID" policies resurfaced in Shanghai and Beijing on Sunday afternoon, continuing a round of demonstrations that have spread across the country since a deadly apartment fire in the northwestern city of Urumqi led to questions over such rigid anti-virus measures. (AP Photo)
            
              A man wearing a face mask flies a kite at a park in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              People wearing face masks walk by a shuttered shopping mall in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              Residents walk by a deserted area outside a shuttered shopping mall in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              A delivery worker rides on his bike loaded with customer's groceries on a street in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              A man wearing a face mask carries a box with groceries as he leaves a supermarket in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              A man wearing a face mask asks a worker in protective suit to pick up his groceries at a lockdown neighborhood in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              A man carries a child watch a resident flies a kite at a park in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              Security guards in protective suit keep watch near the epidemic Prevention Control boards on display outside a neighborhood in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              Residents stand in line to enter a store which controls the flow of shoppers in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's strict zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              A man wearing a face mask flies a kite at a park in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's overzealous zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              A woman uses her smartphone to scan the health check QR codes before entering a supermarket stack with vegetables in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's overzealous zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              A man puts on his face mask after getting his routine COVID-19 test at a coronavirus testing site in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's overzealous zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              A woman on her wheelchair has her throat swabbed for a COVID-19 test at a coronavirus testing site in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's overzealous zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              Residents stand in line for their routine COVID-19 tests at a coronavirus testing site in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's overzealous zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              Residents stand in line for their routine COVID-19 tests at a coronavirus testing site in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's overzealous zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              A woman wearing a face mask walks by barricades laying around a closed coronavirus testing site in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's overzealous zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              A resident carries groceries walks by barricades laying around a closed coronavirus testing site in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's overzealous zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              People wearing face masks walk by a shuttered shopping mall in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's overzealous zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              Residents walk by a deserted area outside a shuttered shopping mall in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's overzealous zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              A delivery worker rides on his bike loaded with customer's groceries on a street in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's overzealous zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              A man wearing a face mask carries a box with groceries as he leaves a supermarket in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's overzealous zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              A man wearing a face mask asks a worker in protective suit to pick up his groceries at a lockdown neighborhood in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's overzealous zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              A man carries a child watch a resident flies a kite at a park in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's overzealous zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              Security guards in protective suit keep watch near the epidemic Prevention Control boards on display outside a neighborhood in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's overzealous zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
            
              In this photo obtained by The Associated Press, demonstrators stand by protest signs in Shanghai on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. Protests against China’s restrictive COVID measures appeared in a number of cities Saturday night, in displays of public defiance fanned by anger over a deadly fire in the western Xinjiang region. (AP Photo)
            
              Residents record the scene as they mourn for the victims a recent deadly fire at a residential building in Urumqi city at a road sign of the Middle Wulumuqi Road or Middle Urumqi Rd and calls for freedom of the press in Shanghai, China Saturday, Nov. 26, 2022. Protests against China's restrictive COVID-19 measures appeared to roil in a number of cities Saturday night, in displays of public defiance fanned by anger over a deadly fire in the western Xinjiang region. (Chinatopix Via AP)
            
              Residents stand in line to enter a store which controls the flow of shoppers in Beijing, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022. Protests against China's overzealous zero-COVID policies in Shanghai continued on Saturday afternoon, after police cleared away hundreds of protesters in the early morning hours with force and pepper spray. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)

SHANGHAI (AP) — Protesters angered by strict anti-virus measures called for China’s powerful leader to resign, an unprecedented rebuke as authorities in at least eight cities struggled to suppress demonstrations Sunday that represent a rare direct challenge to the ruling Communist Party.

Police using pepper spray drove away demonstrators in Shanghai who called for Xi Jinping to step down and an end to one-party rule, but hours later people rallied again in the same spot. Police again broke up the demonstration, and a reporter saw protesters under arrest being driven away in a bus.

The protests — which began Friday and have spread to cities including the capital, Beijing, and dozens of university campuses — are the most widespread show of opposition to the ruling party in decades.

In a video of the protest in Shanghai verified by The Associated Press, chants against Xi, the most powerful leader since at least the 1980s, and the Chinese Communist Party sounded loud and clear: “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!”

Three years after the virus emerged, China is the only major country still trying to stop transmission of COVID-19. Its “zero COVID” strategy has suspended access to neighborhoods for weeks at a time. Some cities carry out daily virus tests on millions of residents.

That has kept China’s infection numbers lower than those the United States and other major countries, but public acceptance has worn thin. People who are quarantined at home in some areas say they lack food and medicine. The ruling party faced public anger following the deaths of two children whose parents said anti-virus controls hampered efforts to get medical help.

The current protests erupted after a fire broke out Thursday and killed at least 10 people in an apartment building in the city of Urumqi in the northwest, where some have been locked in their homes for four months. That prompted an outpouring of angry questions online about whether firefighters or people trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other restrictions.

About 300 demonstrators gathered late Saturday in Shanghai, most of whose 25 million people were confined to their homes for almost two months starting in late March.

On a street named for Urumqi, one group of protesters brought candles, flowers and signs honoring those who died in the blaze. Another group, according to a protester who insisted on anonymity, was more active, shouting slogans and singing the national anthem.

That protester and another, who gave only his family name, Zhao, confirmed the chants against Xi, who has awarded himself a third five-year term as leader of the ruling party and who some expect to try to stay in power for life. Like others who spoke to the AP, the protesters didn’t want to be identified due to fear of arrest or retaliation.

The atmosphere of the protest encouraged people to speak about topics considered taboo, including the 1989 crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests, the protester who insisted on anonymity said.

Some called for an official apology for the deaths in the fire in Urumqi in the Xinjiang region. One member of Xinjiang’s Uyghur ethnic group, which has been the target of a security crackdown that includes mass detentions, shared his experiences of discrimination and police violence.

“Everyone thinks that Chinese people are afraid to come out and protest, that they don’t have any courage,” said the protester, adding it was his first time demonstrating. “Actually in my heart, I also thought this way. But then when I went there, I found that the environment was such that everyone was very brave.”

The scene turned violent early Sunday. Hundreds of police broke up the more active group before they came for the second as they tried to move people off the main street. The protester said that he saw people being taken away, forced by police into vans, but could not identify them.

Zhao said one of his friends was beaten by police and two were pepper-sprayed. He lost his shoes and left barefoot.

He said protesters yelled slogans, including one that has become a rallying cry: “(We) do not want PCR (tests), but want freedom.”

On Sunday afternoon, crowds returned to the same spot and again railed against PCR tests. People stood and filmed as police shoved people.

Officers in surgical masks and yellow safety vests told the crowd of about 300 spectators to leave but appeared to be trying to avoid a confrontation. There was no sign of shields or other riot gear.

In Beijing, a group of about 200 people gathered in a park on the capital’s east side and held up blank sheets of paper, a symbol of defiance against the ruling party’s pervasive censorship.

“The lockdown policy is so strict,” said a protestor, who would give only his surname, Li. “You cannot compare it to any other country. We have to find a way out.”

Postings on social media said there were also demonstrations at 50 universities.

About 2,000 students at Xi’s alma mater, Tsinghua University in Beijing, gathered to demand an easing of anti-virus controls, according to social media posts. Students shouted “freedom of speech!” and sang the Internationale, the socialist anthem.

The protesters left after the university’s deputy Communist Party secretary promised to hold a school-wide discussion.

Videos on social media that said they were filmed in Nanjing in the east, Guangzhou in the south and at least six other cities showed protesters tussling with police in white protective suits or dismantling barricades used to seal off neighborhoods. The Associated Press could not verify that all those protests took place or where.

The human rights group Amnesty International appealed to Beijing to allow peaceful protest.

“The tragedy of the Urumqi fire has inspired remarkable bravery across China,” the group’s regional director, Hanna Young, said in a statement. “These unprecedented protests show that people are at the end of their tolerance for excessive COVID-19 restrictions.”

Urumqi and a smaller city in Xinjiang, Korla, eased some anti-virus controls in what appeared to be an attempt to mollify the public following Friday’s protests.

Markets and other businesses will reopen in areas deemed at low risk of virus transmission and bus, train and airline service will resume, state media reported. They gave no indication whether residents in higher-risk areas would be allowed out of their homes.

___

This version has been updated to correct that the fire in Urumqi was on Thursday, not Friday.

___

Wu reported from Taipei, Taiwan.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Crowd angered by lockdowns calls for China’s Xi to step down