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COVID protests escalate in Guangzhou as anger over China’s blockade boils


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© Reuters. Protesters chant slogans in support of freedom of speech and freedom of the press, amid widespread nationwide unrest due to lockdown policies due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in Ho Chi Minh City. Du, China in this still image obtained from an undated social media video released on November 27, 2022. Video obta

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By Brenda Goh and Martin Quin Pollard

SHANGHAI/BEIJING (Reuters) – People in China’s southern manufacturing hub Guangzhou clashed with riot police dressed in white hazmat suits on Tuesday night, social media videos showed , as frustration with strict rules about COVID-19 lingers three years after the pandemic.

The clashes marked an escalation from protests in the central business district of Shanghai, the capital Beijing and other cities over the weekend in the largest wave of civil disobedience by mainland China since since President Xi Jinping came to power a decade ago.

In a video that went viral on Twitter, dozens of riot police officers in all-white anti-pandemic uniforms, with shields on their heads, are seen advancing in formation past what appears to have been broken through the lockdown. when objects fly towards them.

Police were then seen escorting a line of handcuffed people to an unknown location.

A separate video shows people throwing hard objects at police, while a third shows a tear gas canister landing in a small crowd on a narrow street, then people running in all directions to escape the smoke.

Reuters has verified that the videos were shot in the Haizhu district of Guangzhou, but could not determine the exact sequence of events and what caused the clashes.

Social media posts said the clashes took place on Tuesday night and were caused by a dispute over lockdown measures.

The government of Guangzhou, the city hit hard in the latest wave of infections, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Home to many rural migrant factory workers, Guangzhou is a large port city north of Hong Kong in Guangdong province, where officials announced late Tuesday that they will allow allowing close contacts of COVID cases to be isolated at home instead of being forced into temporary shelters.

The move broke with the usual practice under China’s COVID-free policy.

In Zhengzhou, home to the sprawling Foxconn plant that makes Apple’s iPhones (NASDAQ:) once a site of worker unrest because of COVID, officials announced the “orderly” resumption of business, including supermarket, gym and restaurant.

However, they also later released a long list of high-risk buildings that will continue to be locked down.

Hours before those announcements, national health officials said on Tuesday that China would respond to “urgent concerns” raised by the public and that COVID rules should be made more flexible. , depending on the specific conditions of each region.

But while the easing of measures, introduced as China announced its daily number of COVID cases, appeared to be an attempt to appease the majority of the population, authorities have also begun to hunt down those who participated in recent protests.

“One of my friends, who posted videos of people calling for Xi’s resignation, was taken away by the police last night,” a Beijing resident who asked to remain anonymous told Reuters.

“Other friends who posted similar videos had to go to the police station. Most were held for a few hours and asked to sign a paper promising they wouldn’t do it again. And most are now gone. delete their posts.”

‘Enemy Force’

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

The Central Committee for Politics and Law also said “illegal acts and crimes that disrupt social order” will not be tolerated.

China’s foreign ministry said rights and freedoms must be exercised within the framework of the law.

White House national security spokesman John Kirby (NYSE:NYSE) said on Tuesday that protesters in China should not be physically harmed or threatened.

Although the number of infections and deaths is low by global standards, COVID has spread despite China largely isolating itself from the world and requiring substantial sacrifices to comply with testing. frequent and prolonged isolation.

The blockade has exacerbated one of the steepest growth slowdowns China has suffered in decades, disrupting global supply chains and roiling financial markets.

The head of the International Monetary Fund Kristalina Georgieva has flagged a possible downgrade in the fund’s economic growth forecast for China.

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