One by one, Beijingers braved the frigid Sunday evening after word of a rally spread on social media – a silent vigil for the victims of a deadly fire and a protest against China’s harsh Covid-19 restrictions.
Within hours, hundreds had gathered on the banks of the Liangma River in near-freezing temperatures, an AFP journalist on the scene saw, many carrying blank white papers – a symbolic protest against censorship.
Others lit candles and tealights at a small makeshift shrine, where flower bouquets were placed and a white piece of paper read “for the victims who died in the Urumqi fire on November 24”.
Protests have erupted across Shanghai and Beijing following a deadly fire in Urumqi, the capital of western Xinjiang province – deaths many blame on strict lockdowns preventing emergency services from reaching victims in time.
“We are all Xinjiang people! Go Chinese people! Long live the people!” those gathered at the river — which runs through some of Beijing’s most affluent neighborhoods — chanted on Sunday.
Others were more explicitly anti-zero-Covid, shouting “No to nucleic acid testing, we want to eat!”
Some chanted slogans recalling a series of tragedies linked to China’s strict zero-Covid rules.
“Don’t forget those who died in the Guizhou bus accident…don’t forget freedom,” said one, referring to an accident in September when a bus transporting residents to a Covid-19 quarantine facility crashed, killing 27 of the occupants died.
“Think of the … Xi’an pregnant woman who died, those who had no access to medical treatment in Shanghai,” said another.
Some people shouted “We won’t forget!”, while others said: “Don’t be a people, be yourself!”
Some softly sang “The Internationale” – the old anthem of the international communist movement – and the national anthem.
Others waited quietly, filming the scene — rare in China, where mass protests are routinely put down by the state — on their phones.
The mood was mostly calm, but looking out there were at least a dozen police cars parked on surrounding roads. Some police officers walked through the crowd and filmed the scenes.
Some young people gave speeches, while others shouted slogans demanding “Freedom of art” and “freedom of writing”!
Drivers were heard honking in support of the protesters as they drove on the nearby ring road.
“Because of you, Beijing is proud!” cried a spectator on the other side of the river.
An AFP reporter saw police trying to disperse the crowd just before 10:30 pm Beijing time (1430 GMT). Some protesters stood their ground, shouting “don’t go!”
And an hour later, many were still there, showing no signs of leaving.
(This story has not been edited by NewsMadura staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)
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