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Chinese police “beat up” citizens who gathered to protest against the freezing of their bank accounts due to COVID-19 policies on Sunday, according to protesters.
The protests focused on three banks serving mainly rural communities that have frozen millions of dollars in accounts since April. About 1,000 protesters gathered to demand the release of their funds outside the Zhengzhou branch of the Central Bank of China, but say they were met with violence.
“I feel so aggrieved that I can’t even explain it to you,” one protester, who goes by the name of Zhang, told Reuters.
“They didn’t say they would beat us if we refused to leave. They only used the loudspeaker to say that we were breaking the law by making a request. That’s ridiculous. It is the banks that are breaking the law,” the protester added.
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Even with more than 1,000 protesters, police outnumbered demonstrators roughly three to one, according to Zhang.
The Chinese government has opened investigations into the pair of banks, Yuzhou Xinminsheng Village Bank and Shangcai Huimin Country Bank, but has not announced any further action.
The economic unrest comes as China is already trying to stamp out clusters of COVID-19 outbreaks within its borders.
Wuxi city officials shut down in-person dining and many other indoor activities last week. Authorities are also encouraging residents to work from home and not leave the city.
China’s “zero COVID” approach to the pandemic means even small outbreaks result in widespread lockdowns. The policy has sparked unrest in Shanghai, where lockdowns have lasted for months and access to food and other daily goods has been severely limited.
Government officials promoted that Shanghai was COVID-free in early June, but hundreds of thousands of residents remained in lockdown.
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Shanghai authorities say the city suffered more than 500,000 cases between April and the end of May.