1 of 3 | Shanghai, China, was put on strict lockdown back in May amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. File Photo by Alex Plavevski/EPA-EFE
Oct. 14 (UPI) -- A mysterious protester staged an elaborate demonstration in the Chinese capital Thursday which assailed the country's COVID-19 restrictions and called for the overthrow of President Xi Jinping ahead of a ceremony that will install the Communist ruler for a critical third term.
The rare but dramatic demonstration took place along the Sitong Bridge in the Haidian district of Beijing, where two large banners excoriated Xi and his strict "zero-COVID" policies that have been tightened across the country in the past week due to a sudden wave of outbreaks.
The latest health crisis emerged quickly, with a near tripling of daily cases in only a week's time. The rapid spread has triggered many draconian-era quarantines, travel bans, and business lockdowns in just about every local region throughout China.
Some of the unrelenting lockdowns have even been in place since outbreaks that occurred in the spring and summer.
Video footage and photos of Thursday's protest were widely circulated on social media, which showed plumes of smoke wafting from an overpass while a recording of protest music blared over a loudspeaker.
Hundreds of drivers saw the banners, written in Chinese and hanging from a pedestrian rail, reading: "Say no to COVID test, yes to food. No to lockdown, yes to freedom. No to lies, yes to dignity. No to cultural revolution, yes to reform. No to great leader, yes to vote. Don't be a slave, be a citizen," according to BBC News.
The other banner condemned the Chinese president, reading: "Go on strike, remove dictator and national traitor Xi Jinping."
Later in the afternoon, government police were seen patrolling the area while the banners had been removed. Conflicting reports from inside China said authorities were trying to learn the identity of the person who staged the protest, while other outlets said a suspect had been taken into custody, although no identity was given.
Online sleuths, meanwhile, honed in on a Chinese researcher who published a critical essay about the government in the past as the person who may have been responsible.
Beijing moved immediately to scrub all links, hashtags, video and imagery of the protest from government-controlled social media platforms like WeChat and Weibo.
Some users had their accounts locked after they posted comments about the protest, but many voices on the internet were proclaiming they had already seen the video before it was taken down.
Meanwhile, the worsening virus situation in China was putting extreme pressure on the ruling Communist Party as it plans to begin its 20th annual National Congress in Beijing on Sunday and extend Xi's rule another five years amid growing turmoil over his domestic policies.