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SHANGHAI: Chinese security forces marched through the streets of Beijing and Shanghai on Monday (28 Nov) after calling for another night of online protests demanding political freedom and an end to the COVID-19 lockdown. filled up.

Since pro-democracy rallies were crushed in 1989, people have taken to the streets of major cities across China and congregated on university campuses.

A deadly fire last week in Urumqi, the capital of northwestern China’s Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, sparked public outrage, with many blaming COVID-19 lockdowns for hampering rescue efforts. did.

Beijing has accused “powerful forces” of linking the fires to fighting COVID-19.

In an area of ​​Shanghai’s economic hub where demonstrators gathered over the weekend, AFP witnessed police taking away three people. China’s online censorship machine also worked to drown out signs of social media-driven gatherings.

Planned protests in the capital Beijing later on Monday were rendered useless after dozens of police officers and vans blocked an intersection near a meeting point in Xihaidian District.

Police cars line the road to the nearby Xitong Bridge, where a protester was detained last month after holding a banner denouncing President Xi Jinping.

Demonstrators had shared online plans to march toward the bridge after a successful rally near the Liangma River the day before.

In Hong Kong, where the popular pro-democracy movement erupted in 2019, dozens of people gathered at the Chinese University to mourn the victims of the Urumqi fire, an AFP journalist said.

“Don’t look away. Don’t forget. We are not foreign powers. We are the youth of China,” they shouted.

People also held banners and held flowers in the central district of the financial hub, where Beijing imposed sweeping national security laws after the 2019 protests.

And in Hangzhou, some 170 kilometers southwest of Shanghai, heavy security and sporadic protests in the city’s center were circulating on social media, partially locating AFP. This was revealed by the video that provided the information.

chants and banners

Protesters are using the rallies to demand greater freedoms, with some even calling for the resignation of President Xi Jinping, who was recently reelected to a historic third term as China’s leader.

Police clashed with demonstrators as they tried to stop a crowd from gathering on Urumqi Street, named after Urumqi’s Mandarin.

The BBC said one journalist covering the Shanghai protests had been arrested and beaten by police.

In Washington, the White House said President Joe Biden is closely monitoring the unrest. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby did not explain Biden’s response to protesters’ demands, but said the president supported their rights.

Kirby said, “People should be allowed the right to come together and peacefully protest any policy or law or order they challenge.”

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has warned that China poses a “systemic challenge” to British values ​​and interests, and the British government has condemned reports of a BBC reporter’s beating.

Mr Snack said the so-called “golden age” of British-China relations trumpeted by former Prime Minister David Cameron “has ended with the naive idea that trade automatically leads to social and political reform”.

As such, the UK “needs to evolve its approach to China”, he said.

AFP journalists said repeated rallies were held in Beijing on Monday as at least 400 people gathered for hours the previous night.

One protester told AFP that she and five of her friends, who had taken part in the protest, received a call from Beijing police on Monday night requesting information about their movements.

In one case, a police officer visited a friend’s house after the friend refused to answer the phone.

“He gave me my name and asked if I went to the Liangma River last night. for safety reasons.

An AFP journalist at the tense scene of Monday’s protests in Shanghai also saw a large police presence, with temporary blue fences erected along the pavement to deter further rallies.

Police later detained three people at the scene, an AFP journalist said.

Shanghai police did not confirm how many people were detained when contacted by AFP.

AFP journalists also filmed those being detained on Sunday.

“fed up”

China’s strict information controls and ongoing travel restrictions related to its Covid-zero policy have made it difficult to ascertain the number of protesters across the vast country.

However, such large gatherings are extremely rare as the authorities crack down on all dissent from the central government.

A jogging woman in her 20s told AFP at the site of a riverside rally in Beijing where a line of police cars was stationed on Monday, saying she had seen the protests on social media and supported them. .

“This protest was a good thing. It sent a signal that people were fed up with overly strict regulations,” Jogger said on condition of anonymity. China moves to curb rare nationwide protests

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