HONG KONG (AP) — Students in Hong Kong chanted “oppose dictatorship” in a protest against China’s COVID rules Monday after demonstrators on the mainland issued an unprecedented call for President Xi Jinping to resign in the biggest show of opposition to the ruling Communist Party in decades.
Rallies against China’s unusually strict anti-virus measures spread to several cities over the weekend, and authorities eased some regulations, apparently as part of an attempt to quell that public anger. But the government showed no sign of backing down on its larger COVID strategy, and analysts expect authorities to quickly silence the dissent.
With police out in force on Monday, there was no word of protests in Beijing or Shanghai. But about 50 students sang at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and some lit candles in a show of support for those in mainland cities who demonstrated against restrictions that have confined millions of people to their homes. Hiding their faces to avoid official retaliation, the students chanted, “No PCR tests but freedom,” and “oppose dictatorship, don’t be slaves.”
The gathering and a similar one elsewhere in Hong Kong were the biggest protests there in more than a year under rules imposed to crush a pro-democracy movement in the territory, which is Chinese but has a separate legal system from the mainland.
“I’ve wanted to speak up for a long time, but I did not get the chance to,” said James Cai, a 29-year-old from Shanghai who attended a Hong Kong protest and held up a piece of white paper, a symbol of defiance against the ruling party’s pervasive censorship. ”“If people in the mainland can’t tolerate it anymore, then I cannot as well.”
It wasn’t clear how many people have been detained since the protests in China began Friday, sparked by anger over the deaths of 10 people in a fire. Some have questioned whether firefighters or victims trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other anti-virus controls.
Without mentioning the protests, the criticism of Xi or the fire, some local authorities eased restrictions on Monday.
The city government of Beijing announced it would no longer set up gates to block access to apartment compounds where infections are found.
“Passages must remain clear for medical transportation, emergency escapes and rescues,” said a city official in charge of epidemic control, Wang Daguang, according to the official China News Service.
Guangzhou, a manufacturing and trade center that is the biggest hotspot in China’s latest wave of infections, announced some residents will no longer be required to undergo mass testing.
Urumqi, where the deadly fire occurred, and another city in the Xinjiang region in the northwest announced markets and other businesses in areas deemed at low risk of infection would reopen this week and public bus service would resume.
“Zero COVID,” which aims to isolate every infected person, has helped to keep China’s case numbers lower than those of the United States and other major countries. But tolerance for the measures has flagged as people in some areas have been confined at home for up to four months and say they lack…