Hazmat suit-clad riot police confront China COVID-19 protesters

Clashes reported in locked-down southern city of Guangzhou amid the biggest wave of civil unrest since 1989.

Hazmat suited riot police on the streets of Guangzhou in grainy footage taken from video
A number of people were arrested after the clashes in Guangzhou [Reuters]

Clashes between people protesting against China’s harsh COVID-19 measures and riot police wearing hazmat suits have been reported in the southern city of Guangzhou.

The unrest on Tuesday night follows protests in Shanghai, Beijing and other major cities amid anger over the government’s strict response to COVID-19, in mainland China’s biggest wave of civil disobedience since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

Videos shared on social media showed riot police in white hazmat suits marching shoulder to shoulder down a street in Guangzhou’s Haizhu district as glass smashed around them.

People nearby could be heard screaming and shouting, as orange and blue barricades were shown strewn across the ground.

People were seen throwing objects at the police, and later nearly a dozen men were filmed being taken away with their hands bound with cable ties.

Reuters news agency said that it had verified that the videos were filmed in Haizhu district, the scene of COVID-related unrest two weeks ago, but could not determine when the clips were taken or the exact sequence of events and what sparked the clashes.

AFP news agency said it had also verified the footage.

Protesters - silhouetted against lights - throw things at the police on a street in Guangzhou. There are barriers, and neon shop signs in the background
Video shared on social media showed demonstrators throwing glass bottles towards the police [Reuters]

A Guangzhou resident named Chen told AFP on Wednesday that he had seen about 100 police officers converge on Houjiao village in Haizhu district, and arrest at least three men the night before.

Guangzhou, a port city just north of Hong Kong, has been among the worst-hit cities in the latest outbreak of coronavirus, which has been driven by more transmissible subvariants of Omicron.

Police flood streets

Anger over China’s zero-COVID strategy, which includes strict lockdowns, daily mass testing and central quarantine, erupted at the end of last week after a fire in Urumqi, the capital of the northwestern region of Xinjiang, killed at least 10 people.

Protesters say the victims were trapped inside the building because of coronavirus measures imposed to stamp out the virus there. Authorities have denied that was the case.

China Dissent Monitor, run by the United States government-funded Freedom House, estimated at least 27 demonstrations took place across China between Saturday and Monday. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute think-tank estimated 43 protests in 22 cities.

Demonstrators have also demanded political reforms, with some even calling for President Xi Jinping to stand down.

Police and security forces in other protest cities have been out in force to prevent further disturbances while China’s top security body on Tuesday called for a “crackdown” on what it described as “hostile forces” although it did not specifically refer to the latest protests.

COVID-19 has spread in China despite the country largely isolating itself from the world and demanding significant sacrifices from hundreds of millions of people as they endure relentless testing and prolonged isolation three years after the disease first emerged in the central city of Wuhan.

While China’s infections and death toll are low by global standards, analysts say that a reopening before increasing vaccination rates could lead to widespread illness and deaths and overwhelm its health system.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies