Police rushed to a highway bridge in Beijing after a column of dark smoke appeared above protest banners condemning Chinese leader Xi Jinping by name—a rare display of defiance in the capital that came as top Communist Party officials arrived to attend a closely watched political gathering.
Video footage and photographs of the smoke and two banners—one of which had “Depose the Traitorous Dictator Xi Jinping” scrawled on it in red—circulated widely on Chinese social-media platforms Thursday.
One man told Wall Street Journal reporters he saw the thick smoke and the unfurled banners hanging from the bridge at about 1 p.m. local time. Police arrived shortly after he saw the smoke, he said. Employees at four stores in the vicinity said police officers came to check on the situation.
The apparent protest occurred on the Sitong Bridge, situated atop a major intersection with a highway overpass and a subway station in Beijing’s affluent Haidian district. The area is home to several of the country’s top universities and technology companies. “We Don’t Want Nucleic Acid Tests, We Want Food; We Want Freedom, Not Lockdowns,” one of the banners read, according to the photos and footage shared on social-media platforms. “We Want Votes, Not Leaders; We Want Dignity, Not Lies; We are Citizens, not Slaves.”
Though the banners couldn’t be seen by the time Journal reporters arrived, the police presence grew increasingly prominent around the intersection as the afternoon progressed.
Along one strip of stores, a police officer went door to door speaking to shopkeepers, while a number of police vehicles were stationed at each corner. Police officers directed traffic flow, which was otherwise normal for a Thursday afternoon. The overpass appeared to have been cleaned up.
As the Communist Party’s twice-a-decade congress is set to begin Sunday, security in central Beijing has grown tighter, with police officers and volunteers posted at intersections and on pedestrian and vehicle overpasses. Most overpasses along the highway near the site of the incident featured police officers or security men.
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