China signals relaxing zero-covid policy after nationwide protests

News Network
December 1, 2022

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Beijing, Dec 1: China's top Covid official has signalled a possible relaxing of the country's strict zero-tolerance approach to the virus, after nationwide protests calling for an end to lockdowns and greater political freedom.

Anger over China's zero-Covid policy -- which involves mass lockdowns, constant testing and quarantines even for people who are not infected -- has sparked protests in major cities including Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou.

But while authorities have called for a "crackdown" in the wake of the demonstrations, they have also begun hinting that a relaxation of the hardline virus strategy could be in the works.

Speaking at the National Health Commission Wednesday, Vice Premier Sun Chunlan said the Omicron variant was weakening and vaccination rates were improving, according to the state-run Xinhua news agency.

Sun -- a central figure behind Beijing's pandemic response -- said this "new situation" required "new tasks".

She made no mention of the zero-Covid policy in her latest remarks, suggesting an approach that has disrupted the economy and daily life might soon be relaxed.

The comments came as the southern manufacturing-hub Guangzhou -- the site of dramatic Tuesday night clashes between police and protesters -- said it had partially lifted a weeks-long lockdown, despite seeing record virus cases.

Officials on Wednesday eased restrictions to varying degrees in all of the city's 11 districts, including Haizhu, where recent protests took place.

With the exception of a number of designated "high-risk" neighbourhoods, the Guangzhou health commission said, "the rest will be managed as low-risk areas."

The central city of Chongqing also said Wednesday close contacts of Covid cases who met certain conditions would be allowed to quarantine at home -- a departure from rules that required them to be sent to central isolation facilities.

Sun's remarks -- as well as relaxations of rules by local authorities -- "could signal that China is beginning to consider the end of its stringent zero-Covid policy," analysts said.

"We believe that Chinese authorities are shifting to a 'living with Covid' stance, as reflected in new rules that allow people to do 'home isolation' instead of being ferried away to quarantine facilities," ANZ Research analysts said in a note.

As China reaches the third anniversary of the pandemic first being detected in the central city of Wuhan, its hardline approach to the virus has stoked unrest not seen since the 1989 pro-democracy protests.

A deadly fire last week in Urumqi, the capital of the northwestern region of Xinjiang, was the catalyst for the outrage, with people blaming Covid curbs for trapping victims inside the burning building.

But demonstrators have also demanded wider political reforms, with some even calling for President Xi Jinping to stand down.

China's strict control of information and continued travel curbs have made verifying protester numbers across the vast country very challenging.

However, the widespread rallies seen over the weekend are exceptionally rare in China.

The 1989 pro-democracy protests ended in bloodshed when the military moved in, most famously in Beijing's Tiananmen Square and surrounding areas.

The death on Wednesday of former Chinese leader Jiang Zemin -- who came to power just after Tiananmen -- saw the ruling Communist Party emphasise his role in that crackdown.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, asked about the protests in an interview with NBC News, said that people in every country should be able to "make known their frustration" through peaceful protests.

"In any country where we see that happening and then we see the government take massive repressive action to stop it, that's not a sign of strength, that's a sign of weakness," he said.

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News Network
January 23,2023

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Udupi, Jan 23: Chief of right wing outfit Sri Ram Sene Pramod Muthalik on Monday said he has decided to contest the upcoming Assembly polls in Karnataka from Karkala Assembly constituency to fight against corruption and for the cause of Hindutva.

The polls are likely by May.

"Under pressure from karyakartas, I decided to contest as an independent candidate from the Karkala Assembly segment. Already, I have travelled across the constituency seven or eight times, and everyone is of the opinion that Muthalik should contest from here as there have been injustice to Hindus and rampant corruption," Muthalik said.

Speaking to reporters, he said he is contesting so that he can work honestly for the cause of Hindutva and against corruption. "My contest will be with an aim to give the Hindus justice and respect," he added.

In November last, Muthalik said 25 Hinduwadis, including him, would contest the 2023 Assembly polls as independent candidates to protect Hindus, while alleging that the BJP which came to power with their support has failed to protect them and Hindutva. Karkala in Udupi district is now being represented by V Sunil Kumar (BJP), who is now Minister for Energy, Kannada and Culture in the Basavaraj Bommai-led Cabinet. He has represented thrice in the constituency and won in 2004, 2013 and 2018.

Earlier a Congress bastion, former Chief Minister and ex-Union Minister M Veerappa Moily had won from there six times from 1972-1994 polls.

After him H Gopala Bhandary of the party had twice represented the seat by winning the 1999 and 2008 polls. 

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News Network
January 21,2023

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New Delhi, Jan 21: Delhi Commission for Women (DCW) Chairperson Swati Maliwal, who on Thursday claimed she was harassed and dragged by a drunk man outside AIIMS after her hand got stuck in his car window as he tried to flee, has hit back at the Bharatiya Janata Party, which alleged that the encounter was staged to show Delhi police in a bad light. Calling the allegations "dirty lies", she posted an impassioned tweet saying the attacks won't deter her.

"Let me tell those who think that they will scare me by telling dirty lies about me. I have done many big things in this short life, with a shroud on my head. I was attacked many times, but did not stop. With every atrocity, the fire inside me grew stronger. No one can suppress my voice. I will keep fighting as long as I am alive!" she said.

The BJP had on Friday raised questions over Ms Maliwal's molestation claims, alleging that the person she accused is an AAP member and her "drama" was part of a conspiracy which has now been "exposed".

Delhi BJP working president Virendra Sachdeva alleged that 47-year-old Harish Chandra Suryavanshi, who was accused of harassing Ms Maliwal, is a prominent AAP activist in South Delhi's Sangam Vihar.

Mr Sachdeva released a photo in which the accused is seen campaigning with AAP MLA Prakash Jarwal. He said with the revelation of the photo and Suryavanshi's background, "it has become clear that the incident was a conspiracy of AAP to defame Delhi internationally by showing the city as an unsafe city for women". 

Several BJP leaders have accused Ms Maliwal, who was appointed by the AAP, of staging the incident to demoralise the Delhi Police and attack the Centre.

AAP chief and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who has been on the offensive against Delhi Lieutenant Governor VK Saxena, a Centre appointee, over alleged interference in the state government's functioning, referred to Ms Maliwal's allegations to slam Mr Saxena again, asking him to concentrate on fixing the law and order situation in the city instead of interfering in the functioning of the AAP government.

BJP leader Shazia Ilmi claimed that the DCW chief, a news channel, and the AAP together hatched a conspiracy to defame the Delhi police but were "exposed". 

"@AamAadmiParty and... did a sting to defame Delhi and its police and serious questions arise on its credibility. Is cheap politics legitimate on the serious issue of women safety?" she tweeted.

BJP MP Manoj Tiwari also released a video zooming in on a picture where the accused could be seen posing beside the AAP MLA. Praising the Delhi police for acting swiftly to arrest the accused, he called the incident a 'fake sting'. 

Mr Tiwari said the case should be thoroughly investigated, and the accused's call records should be checked to find out who he was in touch with.

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News Network
January 27,2023

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Nanded, Jan 27: A 22-year-old medical student was strangled to death and set ablaze allegedly by her father, brother and three other male relatives over her love affair in Maharashtra’s Nanded district, an official said.

The police on Friday arrested the five for the killing that took place on January 22 in Pimpri Mahipal village under Limbgaon police station, around 600 km from Mumbai, an official said.

Shubhangi Jogdand was strangled to death with a rope by her family members, who later set her ablaze and threw her remains in a stream to destroy the evidence, he said.

The victim was a third year student of Bachelor of Homeopathic Medicine and Surgery (BHMS) and her marriage had been fixed.

However, she informed the man chosen by her family that she was in love with another man from her village, the official said.

The victim's family had been upset after the wedding was called off, he said.

The woman’s father, brother, uncle and cousins took her to a farm on the night of January 22, and they allegedly killed her and tried to destroy the evidence, the official said.

The accused have been arrested under section 302 (murder) and other relevant provisions of the Indian Penal Code, he added. 

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