China sends students home, police patrol to curb protests

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese universities sent students home and mobilized police in Beijing and Shanghai to prevent further protests Tuesday after crowds angered by severe anti-virus restrictions called for leader Xi Jinping to step down. . In the biggest show of public dissent in decades.

Authorities have eased some controls after protests in at least eight mainland cities and Hong Kong but have maintained they will stick to a “zero-Covid” strategy that has kept millions of people at bay for months at a time. have been confined to their homes. Security forces have detained unidentified people and intensified surveillance.

With police out in force, there was no word of protests Tuesday in Beijing, Shanghai or other major mainland cities that were the scene of some of the most widespread protests over the past weekend. Ever since the military crushed the 1989 student-led Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement.

In Hong Kong, about a dozen people, mostly from the mainland, protested at a university.

Beijing’s Tsinghua University, where students protested on Saturday, and other schools in the capital and the southern province of Guangdong sent students home. The schools said they were being protected from Covid-19, but dispersing them to far-flung cities also reduced the chance of further protests. Chinese leaders are wary of universities, which have been hotbeds of activism, including the Tiananmen protests.

On Sunday, Tsinghua students were told they could go home early for the semester. The school, which is Xi’s alma mater, arranged for buses to take them to the railway station or the airport.

Nine student dorms at Tsinghua were closed on Monday after some students tested positive for Covid-19, according to one who noted that the closure would make crowding difficult. The student has only given his surname, Chen, fearing reprisals from the authorities.

Beijing Forestry University also said it would arrange for students to return home. It said its faculty and students all tested negative for the virus.

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At least 10 universities have sent students home. The schools said classes and final exams will be conducted online.

Dali Yang, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Chicago, said officials hope to “de-escalate the situation” by cleaning up the campus.

Depending on how hard the government takes, groups may stage protests, he said.

The police appear to be trying to keep their actions out of sight, possibly to avoid drawing attention to the scale of the protests or inciting others. Videos and posts on Chinese social media about the protests were deleted by the ruling party’s massive online censorship apparatus.

No announcements were made about the detentions, although reporters saw protesters being escorted by police, and authorities warned some detained protesters against demonstrating again.

In Shanghai, police stopped pedestrians and searched their phones on Monday night, possibly looking for apps like Twitter that are banned in China or images of protests, according to a witness. The witness, who insisted on anonymity for fear of arrest, said he was on his way to a protest but found no crowd there when he arrived.

Images from a weekend demonstration by the Associated Press show police shoving people into cars. Some people were also caught in police raids after the demonstration ended.

A man who lived near a protest site in Shanghai was detained Sunday and held until Tuesday morning, according to two friends who insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisals from authorities. given

In Beijing, police on Monday visited a resident who had attended a protest the previous night, according to a friend who declined to be identified for fear of reprisals. He said police questioned the resident and warned him not to attend further demonstrations.

On Tuesday, protesters at Hong Kong University chanted slogans against virus restrictions and held up sheets of paper with critical slogans. Some spectators joined in their cheers.

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Protesters held signs that read, “Say No to Covid Panic” and “No Dictatorship but Democracy”.

One said: “We are not foreign troops, but your classmates.” Chinese officials often try to discredit domestic critics by saying they work for foreign powers.

“Zero Covid” has helped keep the number of cases lower than in the United States and other major countries, but global health experts are quick to say that is unsustainable.

Beijing needs to make its approach “very targeted” to reduce economic disruption, the head of the International Monetary Fund told The Associated Press. In an interview on Tuesday.

“We see the importance of moving away from major lockdowns,” said Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the IMF in Berlin. “This targeting therefore allows the spread of Covid to be contained without significant economic costs.”

Economists and health experts, however, warn that Beijing may not relax controls that keep most travelers out of China until millions of elderly people are vaccinated. They say this means “zero Covid” may not end for another year.

On Tuesday, the National Health Commission announced plans to encourage the elderly to get vaccinated through outreach campaigns, community centers and mobile vaccination sites to reach those who cannot leave home.

Public tolerance of the restrictions has eroded as some people under house arrest say they struggle to get access to food and medicine.

The Chinese Communist Party promised to ease restrictions last month, but a surge in infections has prompted cities to tighten controls.

Protests erupted over the weekend with anger over the deaths of at least 10 people in the fire in China’s far west last week, which sparked online outrage over whether the victims who were fighting the fire or trying to escape had been blocked by anti-virus controls.

Most protesters complained about excessive restrictions, but some turned their anger on Xi, China’s most powerful leader since at least the 1980s.

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In a video verified by The Associated Press, a crowd in Shanghai on Saturday chanted, “Xi Jinping! Get down! CCP! Get down!” Such direct criticism of Xi is unprecedented.

Sympathy protests were held abroad, and foreign governments have called on Beijing to exercise restraint.

“We support the right of people everywhere to peacefully protest, to make their views, their concerns, their frustrations known,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said during a visit to Bucharest, Romania.

Meanwhile, the British government summoned China’s ambassador in protest at the arrest and beating of a BBC cameraman in Shanghai.

“Media freedom is a very important thing at the heart of the UK’s belief system,” said Foreign Secretary James Cleverley.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian disputed the British version of events. Zhao said the journalist, Edward Lawrence, failed to identify himself and accused the BBC of twisting the story.

Asked about criticism of the crackdown, Zhao defended Beijing’s anti-virus strategy and said the public’s legal rights were protected by law.

He said that the government is trying to provide maximum security to people’s lives and health while minimizing the impact of Covid on social and economic development.

Wang Dan, a former student leader of the 1989 protests who lives in exile, said the protests “symbolized the beginning of a new era in China … in which Chinese civil society has decided not to remain silent and face oppression.” has decided.”

But he warned at a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan, that authorities are “likely to respond with more force to suppress the protesters violently.” ___

Kang reported from Shanghai and Wu from Taipei, Taiwan. Associated Press writers Canice Leung in Hong Kong, Jill Lawless in London, David McHugh in Berlin, and Alan Nickmayer in Bucharest, Romania contributed.

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