Chinese universities send students home after anti-Covid protests

Protesters hold up blank white papers during a commemoration for victims of a recent Urumqi deadly fire at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in Hong Kong, Monday, Nov. 28, 2022. Students in Hong Kong chanted “oppose dictatorship” in a protest against China’s anti-virus controls after crowds in mainland cities called for President Xi Jinping to resign in the biggest show of opposition to the ruling Communist Party in decades. Credit: AP
Students in Hong Kong chanted “oppose dictatorship” in a protest against China’s anti-virus controls. Credit: AP

Students at Chinese universities are being sent home as the government attempts to maintain its anti-Covid controls and prevent more protests.

Angry crowds protested the ruling Communist Party's 'zero Covid' restrictions over the weekend, with some calling for President Xi Jinping to resign in the biggest show of public dissent in decades.

The government responded by sending police out in force and by Tuesday there were no reported protests in Beijing, Shanghai or other major cities.

Police were making random checks on phones at the People’s Square train station in Shanghai Monday evening, an eyewitness said.

The person declined to give his name out of fear of retribution, as he was en route to a planned protest near the station, which he did not find.

Some Covid restrictions were eased on Monday, but the government said its "zero Covid" strategy was still in operation.

Anger has been growing aaround rigidly-enforced lockdowns against Covid, as Ian Woods reports

Students protested at Tsinghua University on Sunday and subsequently were sent back to hometowns.

The university said they were protecting students from Covid, but as campuses were hotbeds of activism during pushes for democratic reforms in the 1980s, it also is likely to reduce the likelihood of more activism.

Dispersing them to far-flung hometowns would disrupt any coordination.

Universities arranged buses to take students to train stations and said classes and final exams would be completed online.

A woman rides past police vehicles parked along a road monitoring near the site of last weekend's protest in Beijing, Credit: AP

In Hong Kong, about 50 students from mainland China protested on Monday at the Chinese University of Hong Kong in a show of support for people on the mainland.

They lit candles and chanted, “No PCR tests but freedom” and “Oppose dictatorship, don’t be slaves.”

Public acceptance of China's 'zero Covid' policy has eroded, as people in some areas have been confined at home for up to four months and say they lack reliable access to food and medicine.

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

Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Credit: OIS/IOC/Bob Martin/PA

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

A crowd in Shanghai on Saturday chanted, “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!” The Chinese president recently began a third five-year term as Communist Party leader.

Wang Dan, a former leader of the student-led movement centred on Beijing's Tiananmen Square that was crushed by the army, said the protests “an important harbinger for Xi Jinping’s third term in power.

Living now in exile, he added: "It means that he will encounter many challenges in the next five years."

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