By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
BEIJING, CHINA (Worthy News) – Protests in China against the communist government’s strict COVID-19 measures had spread throughout the country Monday in the biggest challenge for Xi Jinping since becoming president in 2013.
In a daring display of public discontent, thousands of angry protestors took to the streets across the nation, including in Shanghai, China’s largest city, the capital Beijing and other major centers.
Footage seen by Worthy News showed protestors openly calling for President Xi and the government to step down amid growing outrage over zero-COVID-19 policies.
The latest rallies were sparked by an apartment fire in the north-western city of Urumqi in the western Chinese region of Xinjiang, which officials said killed ten people and injured nine.
Appartement block residents and others in China’s vast Xinjiang region had been under months of harsh lockdowns and other sweeping “COVID-19 prevention measures.”
Videos circulated on social media and monitored by Worthy News showed an arc of water from a distant fire truck falling short of last Thursday’s fire.
Footage appeared to show that fire engines had been blocked by COVID pandemic control barriers or by cars stranded after their owners were put in quarantine.
The fire started at night on the 15th floor of a high-rise building in Urumqi, the capital of the Xinjiang region, then spread to higher floors, Chinese authorities said.
Chinese officials said an electric socket extension was the cause of the blaze.
State media claimed residents could go downstairs, but protestors questioned whether more lives could have been saved without the COVID-19 restrictions.
The fire fueled lingering public anger over growing government control over Chinese nationals. Recent controversial pandemic measures came after the introduction of the “social credit initiative,” a state record system tracking the “trustworthiness” of citizens.
Many, including devoted Christians and followers of different religious groups, as well as dissidents, have been blacklisted and jailed under the system.
Additionally, Chinese people deemed dangerous to the power base of President Xi, and the Chinese Communist Party disappeared, Worthy News established.
Those whose whereabouts are unknown include lawyer Gao Zhisheng, who disappeared five years ago following years of detentions.
The communist government had once feted him, but Beijing was reportedly outraged that he began defending people on the authorities’ blacklist: Among the Chinese Gao supported were Christians accused of unauthorized preaching and followers of the banned religious group Falun Gong.
It remained unclear whether the latest protests could eventually pressure China’s central authorities to allow more freedoms and release those jailed for their faith and opinions.
Yet, Chinese government officials closely watched the situation in Beijing and the financial hub Shanghai, where protestors called for President Xi to step down.
A long line of blue barriers has been placed along the road in Shanghai, where rallies were held two nights in a row, witnesses said. And with more protests expected, tensions remained high in several key areas of China.
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