BEIJING (Reuters) -- Beijing authorities removed rare banners of political protest from an overpass in the Chinese capital, according to images circulated widely on social media on Thursday, just days before the start of a twice-in-a-decade Communist Party congress.
The banners bore several slogans, including a call for President Xi Jinping's ouster and an end to strict COVID-19 policies, according to numerous images and videos circulated on Twitter, which is blocked in China.
Smoke could be seen emanating from the roadway above where the banners were hung in Beijing's northwestern Haidian district, according to the images.
The incident comes at a very sensitive time in the Chinese capital, with authorities on high alert in the run-up to the 20th congress of the ruling Communist Party, where Xi is expected to secure a third leadership term.
"We don't want COVID tests, we want to eat; we don't want lockdowns, we want to be free," one of them read.
China's zero-COVID policy, which has led to frequent lockdowns and caused heavy economic damage, has fuelled widespread frustration in Chinese cities.
Beijing police did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent to their official WeChat account.
Search terms related to the pictures and topic yielded no results on China's heavily censored internet, although multiple indirect references could be found.
"There was a brave person in Beijing today," one user wrote, adding several thumbs up and roses of support.
Hu Xijin, the former editor of China's nationalistic Global Times tabloid and a high-profile commentator, tweeted on Thursday: "China is currently stable, especially its capital Beijing... In Beijing there is no public dissatisfaction caused by epidemic control as in some other remote places in China."