1.7 mn protesters defy police in Hong Kong

Tuesday 20th August 2019 15:57 EDT

Hong Kong: Approximately a quarter of population defied police orders to stage a peaceful march after a rally in a down town park in Hong Kong, after two months of mounting violent clashes and stark warnings from Beijing and failed to win concessions from the city’s government. Even as China warned it could use its power to quell demonstrations, Hong Kong conducted mass protests over the weekend. Organisers say at least 1.7 million people attended a mass pro-democracy rally, as the city entered its 11th consecutive week of demonstrations. Anger has been sharpened among protesters by the perceived heavy-handedness of the police who have used tear gas, baton charges and rubber bullets in incidents that have pin balled across social media.

Huge crowds filled Victoria Park and spilled on to nearby streets, forcing police to block traffic in the area. Torrential rain came down an hour into the rally, turning the roads into a river of umbrellas. “Stand with Hong Kong! Fight for freedom!” protesters shouted at the rally. Train services to the metro stations near the park were suspended intermittently throughout the day due to the huge numbers of people. The crowd was a mix of young protesters, families and elderly residents. Parents walked alongside small children. The protesters peacefully walked towards Central, the heart of Hong Kong’s business district, and surrounded government headquarters. The Civil Human Rights Front, which organised million-strong marches in June, reiterated the five demands of the anti-extradition law movement. They called for a full withdrawal of the controversial bill and a retraction of characterisation of protests as “riots.” They urged for the unconditional release of all arrested protesters, the formation of an independent commission of inquiry into all events since June, and demanded universal suffrage.

Earlier in last week, Hundreds of China’s People’s Armed Police (PAP) conducted exercises at a sports stadium in Shenzhen, which have prompted worries that the troops could be used to break up protests. The confrontations between police and protesters have plunged Hong Kong into its worst crisis since it reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997 and presented the biggest popular challenge to Xi in his seven years in power.

China’s ambassador to London issued a stark warning, saying Beijing could use its power to quell the Hong Kong protests. “The central government will not sit on its hands and watch,” Liu Xiaoming told reporters. “We have enough solutions and enough power within the limits of (the) Basic Law to quell any unrest swiftly,” Liu said, referring to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, which states that the Hong Kong government can ask the Chinese garrison in the city to help maintain order. The Friday edition of China’s influential state-controlled Global Times tabloid also warned that China had the option to “forcefully intervene”. “If Hong Kong cannot restore the rule of law on its own and the riots intensify, it’s imperative then for the central government to take direct actions based on the Basic Law,” it said, saying the Shenzhen PAP deployment was “a clear warning”. Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said that Hong Kong’s 1997 Basic Law, under which the city was promised a high degree of autonomy when the former British colony returned to China, “is a Chinese law, and as such we naturally expect that the People’s Republic of China, too, won’t call into question the peaceful exercise of these rights.”

Protesters take over HK airport, operations halted

Hundreds of flights were cancelled in Asian financial hub for two consecutive days last week after demonstrators blockaded two terminals and indulged in unprecedented violence. China condemned the protests calling an “anti-government'' activity that have swept the city over the past two months had begun to show “sprouts of terrorism”.

The precise trigger for the airport’s closure was not clear, since protesters occupying the arrivals hall for four days have been peaceful.“Sorry for the inconvenience, we are fighting for the future of our home,” read one protest banner at the airport. Some passengers challenged protesters over the delays, while the demonstrators, using a Chinese term of encouragement, chanted, “Hong Kong people - add oil!”

In the aftermath of chaos, some protesters took to social media to apologise for their behaviour in the airport, admitting they had become agitated too easily and pledged to reflect on their actions, which have caused major disruption for thousands of travellers. Xu Luying, spokeswoman for the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office under the State Council, China’s cabinet, expressed “extreme anger” and “strongly condemned” the assaults, calling them “nearly acts of terrorism”.

The former British colony deeper into turmoil as its stockmarket fell to a seven-month low, and its leader said it had been pushed into a state of “panic and chaos”.

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