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University students sent home as China tries to end protests

BEIJING — Chinese universities sent students home and police deployed in Beijing and Shanghai to prevent further protests on Tuesday after crowds angered by tough anti-virus restrictions called on leader Xi Jinping to resign as soon as possible. great spectacle of public dissent for decades.

Authorities eased some controls after protests in at least eight mainland cities and Hong Kong – but showed no sign of backing down from their broader ‘zero-COVID’ strategy that has confined millions of people to their homes for months in a row. Security forces arrested an unknown number of people and intensified surveillance.

With police out in force, there was no word of protests Tuesday in Beijing, Shanghai or other major cities that saw crowds gathering over the weekend. These widespread protests were unprecedented since the military crushed the student-led pro-democracy movement in 1989 centered in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.

Tsinghua University, where the students gathered, and other schools in Beijing and southern Guangdong province said they were protecting students from COVID-19 by sending them home.

But dispersing them to distant hometowns also reduces the likelihood of further protests. Chinese leaders are particularly wary of universities, which have been hotbeds of activism, including during the Tiananmen protests.

On Sunday, Tsinghua students were told they could go home early for the semester and that the school would arrange buses to take them to the train station or airport.

Nine student dormitories in Tsinghua were closed on Monday after some students tested positive for COVID-19, according to one who noted the closure would make it difficult for crowds to gather. The student gave only his last name, Chen, for fear of retaliation from the authorities.

Beijing Forestry University also said it would arrange for students to return home. He said his teachers and students have all tested negative for the virus.

Universities have said courses and final exams will be held online.

Authorities hope to “defuse the situation” by emptying campuses, said Dali Yang, a China policy expert at the University of Chicago.

Depending on the strength of the government’s stance, protests could continue on a “rotating” basis, with new groups taking turns, he said.

But many people are nervous after police detained protesters and warned them against another demonstration.

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

Footage seen by The Associated Press of photos from a weekend protest showed police pushing people into their cars. Some people were also swept away in police raids after the protests ended.

One such person, who lived near the site of a protest in Shanghai, was arrested on Sunday and held until Tuesday morning, according to two friends who also insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisals from authorities.

A friend said the person was questioned about the protest but was not hit or physically abused.

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 protest again.

China’s “zero-COVID” policy has helped keep the number of cases lower than the United States and other major countries. But public tolerance for the onerous restrictions has eroded as people in some areas have been confined to their homes for up to four months and said they struggled to access food and medications.

The Chinese Communist Party promised last month to reduce disruption by changing quarantine and other rules. But a spike in infections has prompted cities to tighten controls, fueling public frustration.

The weekend protests were sparked by anger over the death of at least 10 people in a fire in far western China last week, which sparked questions online about whether firefighters or victims attempting to escape were blocked by virus checks.

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

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

While some virus restrictions were eased on Monday in a possible attempt to defuse public anger, authorities are said to fear a wave of infections and deaths that could overwhelm the healthcare system if they lift measures further.

China’s numbers remain low compared to the United States and other countries, but few Chinese have been exposed to the virus. Vaccination rates for the elderly lag behind other countries, as older people refuse vaccines, and vaccines developed in China are less effective than those used overseas.

Shows of sympathy have taken place overseas, and foreign governments have called on Beijing to exercise restraint.

Asked about the protests during a Monday briefing, White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said that “obviously there are people in China who have concerns about this. “, referring to blockages.

“These protesters speak for themselves,” Kirby said. “What we are doing is making it clear that we support the right to peaceful protest.”

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

The government is trying to “provide maximum protection for people’s life and health while minimizing the impact of COVID on social and economic development”, Zhao Lijian said.

Wang Dan, a former student leader of the 1989 protests who now lives in exile, called the protests “an important harbinger of Xi Jinping’s third term in power.” This means that he will face many challenges over the next five years.

Xi recently began a breakaway third five-year term as leader of the Communist Party.

“This protest symbolizes the start of a new era in China…in which Chinese civil society has decided not to be silent and to confront tyranny,” Wang said at a press conference in China. Taipei, warning authorities risked responding with ‘stronger force to violently suppress protesters. ———

Kang reported from Shanghai and Wu reported from Taipei, Taiwan.

ABC News

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