BFF-37 Hong Kong protesters flood city streets in peaceful march

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ZCZC

BFF-37

HONGKONG-CHINA-POLITICS-UNREST

Hong Kong protesters flood city streets in peaceful march

HONG KONG, Aug 18, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – A sea of democracy activists flooded
the streets of Hong Kong Sunday in a defiant show to the city’s leaders that
their movement still pulls wide public support, despite mounting violence and
increasingly stark warnings from Beijing.

Tens of thousands of protesters carrying umbrellas poured across the heart
of Hong Kong island defying torrential rain and a police order not to march
from a park where they had gathered earlier for a rally.

Weeks of demonstrations have plunged the financial hub into crisis, with
images of masked black-clad protesters engulfed by tear gas during street
battles against riot police stunning a city once renowned for its stability.

Sunday’s action, the largest rally in weeks which continued into the
night, was billed by organisers as a return to the “peaceful” origins of the
leaderless protest movement.

“It’s been a long day and we’re very tired, but to see so many people out
in the rain marching for Hong Kong gives strength to everyone,” said Danny
Tam, a 28-year-old graphic designer.

The unprecedented political crisis was sparked by opposition to a plan to
allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland.

But protests have since morphed into a wider call for democratic rights in
the semi-autonomous city.

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 pinballed across social media.

“The police are doing things that are totally unacceptable,” said Yim, who
like many of the protesters gave only one name.

“They are hurting citizens, they aren’t protecting us.”

Communist-ruled mainland China has taken an increasingly hardline tone
towards the protesters, decrying the “terrorist-like” actions of a violent
hardcore minority among the demonstrators.

Despite the near-nightly clashes with police, the movement has won few
concessions from Beijing or the city’s unelected leadership.

The spiralling violence, which last week saw protesters paralyse the
city’s airport, has tarnished a campaign that had taken pride in its peaceful
intent and unpredictability — which demonstrators have tagged with the
slogan “Be Water”.

Sunday’s rally was convened as a “non-violent” demonstration, according to
organisers the Civil Human Rights Front.

– Peace or violence? –

Yet many among Sunday’s rally-goers carried rucksacks stuffed with protest
paraphernalia — laser pens, gas masks, goggles and helmets.

“We have our gear with us, but we hope not to use it,” said a 30-year-old
identifying himself only as Man.

China’s propaganda apparatus has seized on the weeks of violence, with
state media churning out a deluge of damning articles, pictures and videos.

State media also ran images of military personnel and armoured personnel
carriers across the border in Shenzhen, prompting the United States to warn
Beijing against sending in troops.

Analysts say any intervention by Chinese security forces would be a
reputational and economic disaster for China.

But Hong Kong’s police are under intense pressure, stretched by flashmob
protests.

A Hong Kong government spokesperson praised the police for handling
“illegal acts with tolerance” and appealed to the protesters to “express
their views in a peaceful and rational manner”.

Opinions among the protesters have diverged over the billowing violence,
which has seen hardcore protesters using rocks, Molotov cocktails and
slingshots against the police.

Some say the violence has driven the pro-democracy movement in an
uncomfortable direction.

“There are some expressing extreme views,” rally-goer Ray Cheng, 30, told
AFP.

“But we have tried many times with peaceful approaches… I really hope
the government can listen to us.”

– Unprecedented crisis –

Under a deal signed with Britain, authoritarian China agreed to allow Hong
Kong to keep its unique freedoms when it was handed back in 1997.

But many Hong Kongers feel those freedoms are being chipped away,
especially since China’s hardline president Xi Jinping came to power.

Beyond suspending the extradition bill, Beijing and city leader Carrie Lam
have shown no desire to meet key demands such as an inquiry into police
violence, the complete withdrawal of the bill and an amnesty.

Beijing has turned the screws on Hong Kong’s businesses, pressuring them
to toe the line and condemn the protesters.

On Friday, Cathay Pacific announced the shock resignation of CEO Rupert
Hogg after the carrier was excoriated by Beijing because some staff supported
the pro-democracy protests.

BSS/AFP/BZC/2025HRS