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Clashes in south China as authorities warn of 'crackdown'

By AFP - Nov 30,2022 - Last updated at Nov 30,2022

Chinese residents in Japan and supporters stage a rally to protest against China’s Zero Corona in Tokyo on Wednesday as part of candlelight vigil for victimes of 11.24 Urumqi fire (AFP photo)

BEIJING — Clashes broke out between police and protesters in a southern Chinese city, part of a wave of COVID lockdown-sparked demonstrations across the country that have morphed into demands for political freedoms.

China's top security body warned late on Tuesday night that authorities would "crack down" following the protests, which are the most widespread since pro-democracy rallies in 1989 that were crushed with deadly force.

The demonstrations erupted over the weekend across major cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, with China's vast security apparatus moving swiftly to smother any further unrest.

But new clashes broke out in China's southern city of Guangzhou on Tuesday night and into Wednesday, according to witnesses and social media footage verified by AFP.

Security personnel in hazmat suits formed ranks shoulder-to-shoulder, taking cover under see-through riot shields, to make their way down a street in the southern city's Haizhu district as glass smashed around them, videos posted on social media showed.

In the footage people could be heard screaming and shouting, with orange and blue barricades strewn across the ground.

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

A Guangzhou resident surnamed Chen told AFP on Wednesday that he had seen around 100 police officers converge on Houjiao village in Haizhu district and arrest at least three men on Tuesday night.

Some students at Guangzhou’s universities said they were forced out of their dormitories overnight on Wednesday, according to social media posts, as a growing number of universities nationwide ordered students home in the wake of campus demonstrations.

Multiple Guangzhou districts lifted restrictions on some or all locked-down neighbourhoods Wednesday afternoon, according to government announcements.

Anger over China’s zero-COVID policy, which involves lockdowns of huge numbers of people and has strangled the economy, has been the trigger for the protests.

A deadly fire last week in Urumqi, the capital of the north-western region of Xinjiang, was the catalyst for the outrage, with people blaming COVID curbs for trapping victims inside the burning building.

China’s National Health Commission announced on Tuesday a renewed effort to expand low vaccination rates among the elderly, long seen as a key obstacle to relaxing the measures.

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