Occupy anniversary rally passes peacefully amid reduced turnout

September 29, 2015 11:51
Activists hold aloft yellow umbrellas in a rally outside government headquarters Monday to mark the first anniversary of the launch of the Occupy movement. Photo: Reuters

Pro-democracy activists on Monday marked the first anniversary of the Occupy protests, gathering outside the government headquarters in Admiralty and holding aloft yellow umbrellas to invoke the spirit of the 79-day mass movement last year. 

But the turnout was much less compared to 2014 when both Tim Mei Avenue and Harcourt Road were packed with tens of thousands of protesters, Ming Pao Daily noted.

Activists from several organizations took part in the commemoration yesterday, which went off peacefully despite some pro-Beijing groups holding their own counter demonstrations.

The police estimated that about 1,100 people took part in Monday's rally, but organizers disputed the number, saying the turnout was higher.

Meanwhile, around 180 anti-Occupy activists staged their own demonstration.

Admitting that the Occupy movement ended without success, student leader Joshua Wong said he does not think that Sept. 28 is a day worth commemorating.

Still, he showed up at the rally, urging locals to mull on the issue of democracy even during normal times.

Alex Chow, former secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, said people haven't given up on their fight. As evidence, he pointed to the protesters from last year who returned to Monday's event.

Many activists carried yellow umbrellas and ribbons, symbols of the Occupy movement, at the rally which was held under the theme "People against political suppression". It marked a change from the "self-determination" theme seen at the street protests last year.

Eddie Chan, deputy convenor of Civil Human Rights Front, which organized Monday's rally, said pro-democracy groups will help those who had been arrested during the occupation last year clear their names.

The groups will try to raise a support fund, with an initial target of HK$2 million (US$258,000) for those in need of legal assistance, Chan said.

At 5:28 pm, the time when the police first used tear gas and pepper spray against the protesters last year, the rally participants began to stand in silence for 15 minutes with yellow umbrellas raised high.

Occupy co-founder Benny Tai said in a speech that the movement was only a starting point for Hongkongers to fight for democracy.

Rev. Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, another co-founder of Occupy, criticized recent comments made by a Chinese official that the chief executive has a constitutional status above all the three branches of the government, including the judiciary.

Dr. Chung Kim-wah, director of the Center for Social Policy Studies at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said the rally and online comments Monday showed that the Occupy movement has not become just a memory.

The government will be misjudging the public mood if it takes comfort from the reduced turnout at the rally, Chung said.

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