Students in Hong Kong chanted "oppose dictatorship" in a protest against China's Covid rules on 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 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.
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.
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"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.
In Hong Kong, protesters at Chinese University put up posters that said, “Do Not Fear. Do Not Forget. Do Not Forgive,” and sang including “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from the musical Les Miserables. Most hid their faces behind blank white sheets of paper.
"I want to show my support,” said a 24-year-old mainland student who would identify herself only as G for fear of retaliation. “I care about things that I couldn't get to know in the past.” University security guards videotaped the event but there was no sign of police.
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At an event in Central, a business district, about four dozen protesters held up blank sheets of paper and flowers in what they said was mourning for people killed in the fire in Urumqi in China's northwest and others who have died as a result of “zero Covid” policies.
Police cordoned off an area around protesters who stood in small, separate groups to avoid violating pandemic rules that bar gatherings of more than 12 people. Police took identity details of participants but there were no arrests.
Hong Kong has tightened security controls and rolled back Western-style civil liberties since China launched a campaign in 2019 to crush a pro-democracy movement. The territory has its own anti-virus strategy that is separate from the mainland.