Chinese universities sent students home and police fanned out in Beijing and Shanghai to prevent more protests Tuesday after crowds angered by severe anti-COVID restrictions called for leader Xi Jinping to resign in the biggest show of public dissent in decades. Authorities have eased some controls after demonstrations in at least eight mainland cities and Hong Kong but maintained they would stick to a "zero-COVID" strategy that has confined millions of people to their homes for months at a time, the AP reports. Security forces have detained an unknown number of people and stepped up surveillance.
With police out in force, there was no word of protests Tuesday in Beijing, Shanghai or other major mainland cities that were the scene last weekend of the most widespread protests since the army crushed the 1989 student-led Tiananmen Square pro-democracy movement. Beijing's Tsinghua University, where students protested over the weekend, and other schools in the capital and the southern province of Guangdong sent students home. The schools said they were being protected from COVID-19, but dispersing them to far-flung hometowns also reduces the likelihood of more demonstrations. Chinese leaders are wary of universities, which have been hotbeds of activism including the Tiananmen protests.
Authorities hope to "defuse the situation" by clearing out campuses, said Dali Yang, an expert on Chinese politics at the University of Chicago. Depending on how tough a position the government takes, groups might take turns protesting, he said. Police appeared to be trying to keep their crackdown out of sight, possibly to avoid drawing attention to the scale of the protests or encouraging others. Videos and posts on Chinese social media about protests were deleted by the ruling party’s vast online censorship apparatus. Hundreds of people gathered Tuesday at Harvard University and near Chinese consulates in New York and Chicago to support protesters in China, the AP reports. Many who had gathered at the statue of university namesake John Harvard wore masks—not because of COVID-19, but out of concern that if they are recognized by Chinese authorities, their families back home would face repercussions.
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