COVID protesters and riot police clash in China's fifth biggest city

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By Euronews  with Reuters & AP
Demonstrators protesting over coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions throw glass bottles towards riot police in Guangzhou, Guangdong province
Demonstrators protesting over coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions throw glass bottles towards riot police in Guangzhou, Guangdong province   -  Copyright  Credit: Reuters

Riot police clad in white hazmat suits clashed with protestors in the Chinese manufacturing hub of Guangzhou on Tuesday night. 

Anger in China's fifth-biggest city towards strict COVID lockdowns bubbled over into violent frays with police last night, marking an escalation in unrest breaking out this weekend. 

Following protests in Shanghai, Beijing and elsewhere, the clashes come as China posts record numbers of daily COVID cases, while slightly loosening restrictions in the southern region around Guangzhou by health officials. 

In one video posted on Twitter, dozens of riot police in all-white pandemic gear, holding shields over their heads, advanced in formation over what appeared to be torn-down lockdown barriers as objects fly at them.

Police were later seen escorting a row of people in handcuffs to an unknown location.

China's largest wave of civil disobedience since the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests comes amid a slowdown of the country's economy, which has grown at a breakneck speed for decades. 

This era of prosperity, which saw hundreds of millions lifted from poverty, was integral to the social contract between the ruling Communist Party and the wider population. 

Some of the protestors over the weekend voiced rare criticism of President Xi Jinping, calling on him to resign. 

Taking power 10 years ago, Xi has presided over a significant crackdown on freedoms, the mass imprisonment of China's Uyghur Muslim population and undermined the quasi-independence of Hong Kong. 

Protests were sparked on Saturday following the deaths of at least 10 people in an apartment fire last week in Urumqi in the Xinjiang region in the northwest. People have complained that COVID restrictions hindered rescue efforts, though the authorities deny this.

Another video recording from Tuesday night posted online showed people throwing objects at the police, while in a third tear gas was seen landing in the middle of a small crowd on a narrow street. People ran to escape the noxious fumes.

Reuters confirmed that the videos originated from Guangzhou, which saw COVID-related unrest two weeks ago. 

China is one of the last countries in the world to still have strict "zero COVID" policies. 

These have led to a significantly lower infection and death rate than in places like the US. But leaders face mounting complaints about the enormous economic and human cost as businesses close and families are isolated for weeks with limited food and medicine. 

However, it could verify when the clips were taken, what sparked the clashes or the exact order in which events took place. 

China Dissent Monitor, run by Freedom House, estimated at least 27 demonstrations took place across China from Saturday to Monday. 

Australia's ASPI think tank put this figure at 43 protests in 22 cities.