Deadly fire in Xinjiang prompts angry protests over China’s strict COVID lockdowns
The protests in Urumqi come amid rising public frustration over the government’s zero-COVID policy.
Angry protests raged overnight in the capital of China’s western Xinjiang region, as residents blamed tight COVID-19 lockdown measures for delaying a response to a deadly apartment fire, prompting the government to promise to ease the restrictions gradually, according to local sources and media reports.
The protests in Urumqi–which also erupted in Beijing, Shanghai and other cities–were triggered by a fire Thursday night in a residential building in Urumqi’s Jixiangyuan district that killed at least 10 people.
Citizen videos that circulated on the Internet showed screaming residents demanding authorities open exits they said were closed under strict COVID-19 restrictions that have been in place for more than 100 days.
Reuters news agency reported that videos verified as taken in Urumqi showed fist-pumping crowds chanting, “End the lockdown!” while others were singing China’s national anthem with its lyric, “Rise up, those who refuse to be slaves!”
AFP said it had verified videos showing hundreds of people gathered outside the Urumqi city government offices during the night, chanting: “Lift lockdowns!” while others marched chanted east of the city and berated authorities wearing white protective suits.
According to the residents, fire trucks that rushed to the scene were prevented from reaching the fire by parked cars and metal fences preventing people from coming out of their buildings and neighborhoods as part of the COVID-19 blockade, allowing the fire to burn for nearly three hours before it was extinguished.
Firemen didn’t clear the obstructions and tried to spray water on the building from a distance, but the hoses could not reach floors 14-19 of the 21-story building, where the fire was burning, sources told RFA Uyghur.