Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Beijing residents at frigid anti-lockdown rally

One by one Beijingers braved the cold Sunday night after word of a rally spread on social media — a silent vigil for the victims of a deadly fire as well as a protest against China’s harsh Covid-19 restrictions.
Within hours hundreds had gathered on the banks of Liangma river in near freezing temperatures, an AFP journalist at the scene saw, many holding blank white papers — a symbolic protest against censorship.
Others lit candles and tea lights at a small makeshift altar, where flower bouquets were placed and a white piece of paper read “for the victims who perished in the Urumqi fire on November 24.”
Protests have sprung up across Shanghai and Beijing in the wake of a deadly fire in Urumqi, the capital of the western province of Xinjiang — deaths that many blame on strict lockdowns preventing emergency services from reaching the victims in time. “We are all Xinjiang people! Go Chinese people! Long live the people!” those rallying by the river — which cuts through some of Beijing’s most affluent neighbourhoods — chanted Sunday.
Others were more explicitly anti zero-Covid, shouting “No to nucleic acid tests, we want food!”
Some chanted slogans recalling a string of tragedies linked to China’s strict zero-Covid rules.
“Do not forget those who died in the Guizhou bus crash… do not forget freedom,” one said, referring to an accident in September when a bus transporting residents to a Covid-19 quarantine facility crashed, killing 27 of those on board.
“Remember the… Xi’an pregnant woman who died, those who could not access medical treatment in Shanghai,” another said.
Some people yelled “We will not forget!”, while others said, “Don’t be a people, be yourself!”
Some gently sang “The Internationale” — the old anthem of the international communist movement — and the national anthem.
Others waited quietly, filming the scene — rare in China, where mass protests are routinely quashed by the state — on their phones.
The mood was largely calm, but keeping a watchful eye were at least a dozen police cars parked on surrounding roads. Some police officers walked through the crowd, filming the scenes.
Some youth made speeches, while others shouted slogans demanding “Freedom of art”, and “freedom to write!”
Drivers were heard honking their horns in support of the protestors as they drove on the nearby ring road.
“Because of you Beijing is proud!” an onlooker on the other side of the river yelled.
An AFP reporter saw police trying to disperse the crowd just before 10:30 pm Beijing time (1430 GMT). Some protesters stood their ground, shouting “don’t leave!”

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