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China: Huge protests erupt in Xinjiang, residents blame strict Covid restrictions for 10 victims in blaze

Huge protests erupted in the restive Xinjiang region of China on Saturday after 10 people were killed in a fire at an apartment building two days ago, followed by allegations that people living in the compound affected by the fire had been largely prevented from leaving their homes. Ten people were killed and nine injured when the fire tore through a residential building in the regional capital Urumqi on Thursday night, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

People have expressed anger over strict Covid restrictions which some social media posts have said have hampered rescue efforts. China’s extremely strict “zero-Covid policy” is causing more and more public fatigue and anger.

Online posts circulating on Chinese and foreign social media platforms since Friday claimed that the city’s long Covid lockdowns had hampered rescue attempts.

Residents of Urumqi have appeared in videos on social media to take to the streets to protest Covid measures.

China is the latest major economy married to a zero Covid strategy, with authorities enforcing instant lockdowns, long quarantines and mass testing to snuff out new outbreaks as they emerge.

Urumqi

Footage partially verified by AFP shows hundreds of people crowding outside Urumqi city government offices overnight, chanting, “Remove the lockdowns!”

Crowds chanted “End the lockdown!”, raising their fists in the air as they marched down a street, showing videos posted on Chinese social media on Friday evening, Reuters reported, which also verified that the footage had been published from the capital of Xinjiang, Urumqi.

Videos showed people singing the Chinese national anthem with its lyrics, “Arise, those who refuse to be slaves!” while others shouted that they wanted to be freed from blockages.

China has placed the vast Xinjiang region under a long lockdown, with many of Urumqi’s 4 million residents banned from leaving their homes for 100 days, Reuters reported. The city has reported about 100 new cases each in the past two days.

Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uighurs. Rights groups and the West have long accused Beijing of abuses against the mainly Muslim ethnic minority, although China denies such claims.

In another clip, dozens of people march through a neighborhood in the east of the city, shouting the same slogan before confronting a line of hazmat-clad officials and angrily berating security personnel.

AFP journalists were able to verify the videos by geotagging local landmarks, but were unable to specify when exactly the protests took place.

(With agency contributions)

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Post expires at 6:40pm on Monday December 5th, 2022