Videos shared on social media appear to show further protests against Covid restrictions in China after a building fire killed 10 people.
Residents of Urumqi are seen confronting officials, tearing down a barrier, and shouting ‘end the Covid lockdown’.
Infections have reached new heights in China despite a strict zero-Covid policy.
Authorities in Urumqi have now vowed to let the restrictions expire – but deny those people stopped people from escaping Thursday’s blaze.
Restrictions have been in place in the city – the capital of the western Xinjiang region – since early August. in the aftermath of the incident, people living on the fire-affected property were largely prevented from leaving their homes.
This is disputed by Chinese state media. However, Urumqi authorities issued an unusual apology on Friday, promising to punish anyone who has neglected their duty.
Footage shared on Friday night showed residents, many wearing masks, congregating on the city’s streets after dark.
They were seen singing, pumping their scoops, and arguing with officials. The location was verified by the Reuters news agency.
A protester shouts through a megaphone, and in another clip, a crowd breaks through a barrier patrolled by city workers in riot gear.
Live streams on Friday night also appeared to show protesters gathered on the steps of a city government building.
The internet is heavily censored in China and references to the Urumqi protests were largely removed on Saturday morning.
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Local media said Thursday’s deadly fire at the building in Urumqi – which also injured nine people – appears to have been caused by a fault in an electrical extension. Online posts suggest firefighting efforts have been hampered by Covid restrictions.
This was disputed by city officials, who wanted to blame parked vehicles for blocking firefighters’ access to the burning building.
At a Saturday morning press conference, they announced a gradual easing of lockdown conditions in parts of Urumqi considered low-risk.
They made no reference to the protests but said the community’s Covid cases had largely been resolved and “order” was being restored to the lives of people in the town.
Large-scale disruptive protests are rare in China, despite growing public dissent against Beijing’s zero Covid strategies. It is the latest policy of its kind among the world’s major economies and is partly due to the country’s relatively low vaccination rates and efforts to protect the elderly.
The snap lockdowns sparked anger across the country – and the wider Covid restrictions recently sparked violent protests from Zhengzhou to Guangzhou.
Despite the strict measures, the number of cases in China this week hit all records since the start of the pandemic.
Many Uyghurs live in the Xinjiang region, which the Chinese government accuses of numerous human rights cases of abuse – which it denies.