Rare protests broke out in China’s far western Xinjiang region, with crowds shouting at hazmat-suited guards after a deadly fire triggered anger over their prolonged COVID-19 lockdown as nationwide infections set another record.
Crowds chanted "End the lockdown!", pumping their fists in the air as they walked down a street, according to videos circulated on Chinese social media on Friday night. Reuters verified the footage was published from the Xinjiang capital Urumqi.
China has put the vast Xinjiang region under some of the country's longest lockdowns, with many of Urumqi's 4 million residents barred from leaving their homes for as long as 100 days. The city reported about 100 new cases each of the past two days.
Xinjiang is home to 10 million Uyghurs. Rights groups and Western governments have long accused Beijing of abuses against the mainly Muslim ethnic minority, including forced labor in internment camps. China strongly rejects such claims.
The Urumqi protests followed a fire in a high-rise building there that killed 10 on Thursday night.
Authorities have said the building's residents had been able to go downstairs, but videos of emergency crews' efforts, shared on Chinese social media, led many internet users to surmise that residents could not escape in time because the building was partially locked down.
Urumqi officials abruptly held a news conference in the early hours of Saturday, denying that COVID measures had hampered escape and rescue but saying they would investigate further. One said residents could have escaped faster if they had better understood fire safety.