Vast crowds of black-clad demonstrators thronged Hong Kong on Sunday in the largest anti-government protest since the Nov. 24 District Council elections.
It was the first time since August that the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), organizer of million-strong marches earlier in the year that paralyzed the city, had received police permission for a rally.
The CHRF estimated the turnout at 800,000 while police put the peak crowd at 183,000.
Chants of “Fight for freedom! Stand with Hong Kong!” echoed as demonstrators, from students to professionals and the elderly, marched from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to Central.
The rally, billed as Human Rights Day March, was largely peaceful, but masked demonstrators vandalized a number of shops, banks and restaurants seen to be pro-Beijing, and fires were set at the entrances to the High Court and the Court of Final Appeal, RTHK reported.
During the march, riot police stood on guard, restrained as protesters yelled “dogs” and “cockroaches”.
According to organizers of the march, many people who wanted to leave after completing the march had found their routes blocked off by riot police, even though the force had given approval for the march to last until 10 p.m., the public broadcaster said.
Sham also accused many frontline officers of acting in a ‘highly unprofessional manner’, saying they had used humiliating and threatening language against protesters, and himself, according to RTHK.
“It’s Christmas time soon but we’re not in the mood to celebrate anymore,” said Lawrence, a 23-year-old student.
He held a poster saying: “My 2020 wish is universal suffrage”, a reference to demands for an open vote on the chief executive and members of the Legislative Council.
China blames the six months of unrest on interference by foreign governments including the United States and Britain.
On Saturday, two leaders of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong were denied entry to the neighboring Chinese city of Macau, without explanation.
Lam under pressure
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor says she has heard the people but has not offered concessions despite a resounding win for pro-democracy parties in the local elections two weeks ago. They secured almost 90 percent of 452 District Council seats in a record turnout.
At Sunday’s protest, chants of “five demands, not one less” rang out, referring to demands that include the setting up of an independent commission of inquiry to look into police brutality and amnesty for those detained over the past six months for various offenses linked with the protests.
“I will fight for freedom until I die because I am a Hongkonger,” said June, a 40-year-old mother dressed in black seated on the grass in Victoria Park.
Police said they arrested another 11 people, aged 20 to 63, confiscating weapons including army knives, firecrackers, bullets and a semi-automatic pistol, the first seizure of a handgun during the protests.
Once rare for Hong Kong, violence has escalated throughout the year, as protesters have torched vehicles and buildings, hurled petrol bombs, dropped debris from bridges onto traffic and vandalized shopping malls. Police have responded with tear gas, water cannon and, at times, live fire.
Protests coalesced in June over a now-shelved extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial, then evolved into broader democracy calls.
There was no comment on Sunday from the Hong Kong SAR government, though the day before it pledged to “humbly” listen and accept criticism.
Since June, Hong Kong has seen more than 900 demonstrations, processions and public meetings, many ending in violent confrontations. Nearly 6,000 people have been arrested.
However, there has been relative calm since the DC vote. While demonstrations pop up on an almost daily basis, at times disrupting businesses, schools and transport, life for most goes on as normal. With Reuters
– Contact us at [email protected]