China attempts to curb, censor rare nationwide protests over Covid lockdowns

© Casey Hall, Reuters

China security forces detained people Monday at the scene of a rare demonstration as authorities worked to extinguish protests that flared across the country calling for political freedoms and an end to Covid lockdowns.

People have taken to the streets in major cities and gathered at university campuses across China to call for an end to lockdowns and greater political freedoms, in a wave of protests not seen since pro-democracy rallies in 1989 were crushed.

A deadly fire last week in Urumqi, the capital of northwest China's Xinjiang region, was the catalyst for the public anger, with many blaming Covid lockdowns for hampering rescue efforts.

Beijing Monday accused "forces with ulterior motives" for linking the fire to Covid measures, saying local authorities had "made clear the facts and refuted this information and smears".

In Shanghai at an area where demonstrators gathered over the weekend, AFP witnessed police leading three people away from a site, while China's censors worked to scrub signs of the social media-driven rallies.

Protesters have notably used the rallies to call for greater political freedoms -- with some even demanding the resignation of China's President Xi Jinping, recently re-appointed to a historic third term as the country's leader.

Large crowds gathered Sunday in the capital Beijing and the economic hub of Shanghai, where police clashed with protesters as they tried to stop groups from converging at Wulumuqi street, named after the Mandarin for Urumqi.


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