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Protesters Call for China's Xi to Quit 11/27 09:10


   SHANGHAI (AP) -- Protesters pushed to the brink by China's strict COVID 
measures in Shanghai called for the removal of the country's all-powerful 
leader and clashed with police Sunday as crowds took to the streets in several 
cities in an astounding challenge to the government.

   Police forcibly cleared the demonstrators in China's financial capital who 
called for Xi Jinping's resignation and the end of the Chinese Communist 
Party's rule -- but hours later people rallied again in the same spot, and 
social media reports indicated protests also spread to at least seven other 
cities, including the capital of Beijing, and dozens of university campuses.

   Largescale protests are exceedingly rare in China, where public expressions 
of dissent are routinely stifled -- but a direct rebuke of Xi, the country's 
most powerful leader in decades, is extraordinary.

   Three years after the virus first emerged, China is the only major country 
still trying to stop transmission of COVID-19 -- a "zero COVID" policy that 
regularly sees millions of people confined to their homes for weeks at a time 
and requires near-constant testing. The measures were originally widely 
accepted for minimizing deaths while other countries suffered devastating wavs 
of infections, but that consensus has begun to fray in recent weeks.

   Then on Friday, 10 people died in a fire in an apartment building, and many 
believe their rescue was delayed because of excessive lockdown measures. That 
sparked a weekend of protests, as the Chinese public's ability to tolerate the 
harsh measures has apparently reached breaking point.

   Hundreds of demonstrators gathered late Saturday in Shanghai, which 
experienced a devastating lockdown in the spring in which people struggled to 
secure groceries and medicines and were forcefully taken into centralized 

   On a street named for the city in China's far west where the fire happened, 
one group of protesters brought candles, flowers and signs honoring those who 
died in the blaze. Another, according to a protester who insisted on anonymity, 
was more active, shouting slogans and singing the national anthem.

   In a video of the protest seen by The Associated Press, chants sounded loud 
and clear: "Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!" Xi, arguably China's most 
dominant leader since Mao Zedong, was recently named to another term as head of 
the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and some expect him to try to stay in power 
for life.

   The protester and another, who gave only his last name, Zhao, confirmed the 
chants. Both insisted on having their identities shielded because they fear 
arrest or retribution.

   The atmosphere of the protest encouraged people to speak about topics 
considered taboo, including the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in which the 
ruling Communist Party had ordered troops to fire on pro-democracy student 
demonstrators, the unnamed protester said. Some also called for an official 
apology for the deaths in the fire in Urumqi in the Xinjiang region. One member 
of the Uyghur ethnic group that is native to Xinjiang and has been the target 
of a sweeping security crackdown shared his experiences of discrimination and 
police violence.

   "Everyone thinks that Chinese people are afraid to come out and protest, 
that they don't have any courage," said the protester, who said it was his 
first time demonstrating. "Actually in my heart, I also thought this way. But 
then when I went there, I found that the environment was such that everyone was 
very brave."

   Initially peaceful, the scene turned violent in the early hours of Sunday. 
Hundreds of police surrounded the protesters and broke up the first more active 
group before they came for the second as they tried to move people off the main 
street. The protester said that he saw multiple people being taken away, forced 
by police into vans, but could not identify them.

   The protester named Zhao said one of his friends was beaten by police and 
two were pepper sprayed. He said police stomped his feet as he tried to stop 
them from taking his friend away. He lost his shoes in the process, and left 
the protest barefoot.

   Zhao said protesters yelled slogans, including one that has become a 
frequent rallying cry: "(We) do not want PCR (tests), but want freedom."

   On Sunday afternoon, crowds returned to the same spot and again railed 
against PCR tests. People stood and filmed as police started shoving at people.

   A crowdsourced list on social media showed that there were also 
demonstrations at 50 universities. Videos posted on social media that said they 
were filmed in Nanjing in the east, Guangzhou in the south, Beijing in the 
north and at least five other cities showed protesters tussling with police in 
white protective suits or dismantling barricades used to seal off 
neighborhoods. The Associated Press could not independently verify all the 

   In Beijing, students at the nation's top college, Tsinghua University, held 
a demonstration Sunday afternoon in front of one of the school's cafeterias. 
Three young women stood there initially with a simple message of condolence for 
the victims of the Urumqi apartment fire, according to a witness, who refused 
to be named out of fear of retribution, and images of the protest the AP has 

   Students shouted "freedom of speech" and sang the Internationale, the 
socialist anthem. The deputy Communist Party secretary of the school arrived at 
the protest, promising to hold a schoolwide discussion.

   Meanwhile, two cities in China's northwest, where residents have been 
confined to their homes for up to four months, eased some anti-virus controls 
Sunday after public protests Friday.

   Meanwhile, Urumqi, where the fire occurred, as well as the smaller city of 
Korla were preparing to reopen markets and other businesses in areas deemed at 
low risk of virus transmission and to restart bus, train and airline service, 
state media reported.

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