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SHANGHAI: Hundreds of people took to the streets in China’s major cities on Sunday to protest against the country’s zero-Covid policy in a rare outpouring of public anger against the state.

China’s hardline virus strategy is stoking public frustration, with many growing weary of snap lockdowns, lengthy quarantines and mass testing campaigns.

A deadly fire on Thursday in Urumqi, the capital of northwest China’s Xinjiang region, has become a fresh catalyst for public anger, with many blaming Covid lockdowns for hampering rescue efforts. Authorities deny the claims.

On Sunday night, between 300 and 400 people gathered on the banks of a river in the capital Beijing for several hours, with some shouting: “We are all Xinjiang people! Go Chinese people!”

AFP reporters at the scene described the crowd singing the national anthem and listening to speeches, while on the other side of the canal bank, a line of police cars waited.

China reports third consecutive daily record for new COVID cases

Cars honked in support as several hundred people who remained past midnight (1600 GMT) waved blank sheets of paper, symbolising censorship.

In the central megacity of Wuhan, where the coronavirus first emerged, multiple livestreams that were quickly censored showed crowds walking through the streets cheering and filming on their phones.

In downtown Shanghai, AFP saw police clashing with groups of protestors, as officers tried to move people away from the site of an earlier demonstration on Wulumuqi street — named after the Mandarin for Urumqi.

Crowds that had gathered overnight — some of whom chanted “Xi Jinping, step down! CCP, step down!” — were dispersed by morning.

But in the afternoon, hundreds rallied in the same area with blank sheets of paper and flowers to hold what appeared to be a silent protest, an eyewitness told AFP.

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