Clashes in Guangzhou as China tries to quell COVID protests

  • Riot police in protective gear clash with protesters
  • Estimated 27-43 protests in 22 Chinese cities
  • One of the biggest acts of blatant defiance of the decade
  • Authorities step up security measures to investigate protesters

SHANGHAI/BEIJING, Nov 30 (Reuters) – People in the Chinese city of Guangzhou clashed with riot police in protective gear on Tuesday night as authorities investigated more participants in a series of protests against the world’s strictest COVID-19 restricted people.

The demonstrations escalated over the weekend, spreading to Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere in one of the largest acts of flagrant defiance since President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.

The southern city of Guangzhou became the latest city to announce an easing of restrictions on Wednesday, but with the number of cases nationwide hitting record highs, the chances of what Xi said was saving lives and announcing a major shift in policy or his track record seemed slim.

In announcing the lifting of the lockdown in parts of Guangzhou, authorities made no mention of the protests, and areas where violence erupted on Tuesday remained under strict control.

In a video of the clash posted on Twitter, dozens of riot police in white hazmat suits and shields over their heads lined up in front of what appeared to be dismantled barriers as objects flew towards them.

Police were later seen escorting a line of handcuffed people away.

Another video clip showed people throwing objects at police, while a third showed tear gas canisters falling on a small crowd on a narrow street, forcing people to run for cover from the smoke.

Reuters confirmed the videos were filmed in Guangzhou’s Haizhu district, the site of COVID-related unrest two weeks ago, but could not determine when the clips were taken or the exact sequence of events and what sparked the clashes.

Posts on social media said the clashes, which took place on Tuesday night, were sparked by an argument over lockdown restrictions.

The Guangzhou government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

China Dissent Watch, run by the U.S. government-funded Freedom House, estimated there were at least 27 demonstrations across China from Saturday to Monday. The Australian ASPI think tank estimated there were 43 protests in 22 cities.

relax restrictions

In addition to easing restrictions in Guangzhou, in Zhengzhou, the site of a massive Foxconn factory that makes Apple’s iPhones, which has been the site of workers’ unrest over COVID, officials announced an “orderly” resumption of business activity, including supermarkets, gyms and restaurants.

However, they also released a long list of buildings that will be in lockdown.

Hours before the announcements, state health officials said China would respond to “urgent concerns” raised by the public and should implement COVID rules more flexibly according to regional conditions.

But while the easing of some measures appeared to be an effort to reassure the public, authorities have also begun hunting down those who had participated in the protests.

“The police came to my front door and asked me about everything and asked me to complete the paperwork,” a Beijing resident who asked not to be named told Reuters on Wednesday.

Another resident said some friends who posted protest videos on social media were taken to the police station and asked to sign a pledge that they “would never do it again.”

Several people offered similar accounts to Reuters on Tuesday.

It was not immediately clear how authorities identified whom they wanted to question, or how many such individuals they had contacted.

The Beijing Public Security Bureau declined to comment.

Analysts at the Economist Intelligence Unit said in a report that authorities were likely to respond to the protests with heightened security measures while emphasizing plans to ease restrictions “while avoiding a portrayal of themselves as having conceded to protesters’ demands”.

“hostile forces”

In a statement that did not mention the protests, the Communist Party’s top body for law enforcement said late Tuesday that China would resolutely crack down on “the infiltration and sabotage activities of hostile forces.”

The Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission also said that “illegal and criminal acts that disrupt social order” cannot be tolerated.

The foreign ministry said rights and freedoms must be exercised within the law.

While China has largely isolated itself from the world and required major sacrifices from hundreds of millions of people to accommodate the pandemic’s three years of relentless testing and prolonged isolation, COVID is still spreading.

While the number of infections and deaths is low by global standards, analysts say reopening before boosting vaccination rates could lead to widespread illness and death and overwhelm hospitals.

Lockdowns have hammered economies, disrupted global supply chains and roiled financial markets.

Data on Wednesday showed China’s manufacturing and service sector activity in November recorded the weakest levels since Shanghai began a two-month lockdown in April.read more

Chinese stocks (.SSEC), (.CSI300) were steady as markets weighed local economic weakness against hopes that public pressure could fuel China’s eventual reopening.

International Monetary Fund Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said China’s growth forecast may be downgraded.

Additional reporting by Eduardo Baptista and Yew Lun Tian in Beijing; Writing by Marius Zaharia and John Geddie; Editing by Michael Perry and Robert Birsel

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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