Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 15 October 2019

Everything you need to know about the Hong Kong protests as they reach 100 days

Despite withdrawal of the extradition bill protesters are still taking to the streets

Hong Kong has now been convulsed by 100 days of large, sometimes violent rallies calling for more democratic freedoms and police accountability.

The protest movement looks unlikely to subside any time soon, as demonstrators clashed once again with police at the weekend. Chinese police have arrested 1,453 people during the upheaval.

Here’s what you need to know:

Why did Hong Kongers take to the streets?

It all began with a million-strong march on June 9 against a draft government bill that would allow extradition from Hong Kong to mainland China.

The bill triggered a backlash against Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, taking in the business, diplomatic and legal communities that fear corrosion of the legal autonomy of Hong Kong.

But as the protests continued, demonstrators widened their concerns to include complaints about the state of democracy in the Chinese Special Administrative Region.

This latest round of protests echoes the 2003 and 2014 demonstrations against perceived attempts to dilute residents' electoral rights.

What does 1997 have to do with it?

Pro-democracy protesters waved flags and chanted slogans outside the UK embassy on Sunday. Getty
Pro-democracy protesters waved flags and chanted slogans outside the UK embassy on Sunday. Getty

In 1997, the British handed Hong Kong over to Chinese rule in an agreement that created a “one country, two systems” principle for the island to be treated differently than mainland China.

This included that the city would be given "a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs" for the next 50 years. In practice, this means it is allowed political parties, free speech, the right to protest for citizens and its own legal system.

Pro-democracy sentiment has become more pronounced in recent years as Hong Kong residents increasingly feel that Beijing is encroaching on their promised freedoms.

Protesters have appealed to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson for help in securing their democratic rights. On Sunday, demonstrators gathered outside Britain's consulate in Hong Kong to demand the UK’s help.

Demonstrators have also asked the US to take action, marching to the United States Consulate last week to urge President Donald Trump to “liberate” their city. A group of protesters sang The Star-Spangled Banner before handing over an appeal letter to a consular official.

How have the protests escalated?

Only days after the June 9 march, protesters began accusing police of heavy-handedness and the inappropriate use of rubber bullets.

On July 1, the anniversary of Hong Kong's return to China, hundreds of protesters smashed their way into parliament and ransacked the building. Protests continued throughout the month, entering August despite warnings from the Chinese military.

Street and mall protests began to gain international attention on August 12 as Hong Kong International Airport was inundated with black-clad pro-democracy Hong Kongers, forcing over 200 flight cancellations.

As violence continued to seep into the movement, protesters sought to prove their peaceful credentials. Six days after the airport protests, 1.7 million umbrella-clutching Hong Kongers gathered in the city’s Victoria Park for a largely peaceful event.

But as protests continued into late August and early September, police began employing harsher tactics, including using water cannons and tear gas. Protesters begin using petrol bombs against police and government buildings.

The protests have started to shift to a new approach in recent days. Scuffles erupted between rival political groups in Hong Kong at the weekend as supporters of China clashed with pro-democracy demonstrators.

Fights have begun breaking out with increased frequency after pro-democracy supporters began holding impromptu singalongs of a popular protest anthem, and in return, pro-Beijing supporters have held rival gatherings to sing China's national anthem.

What happened to the extradition bill?

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in Hong Kong. Amr Abdallah Dalsh
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam attends a news conference in Hong Kong. Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Ms Lam suspended work on the extradition bill on June 15 but continued demonstrations called for a full withdrawal. After dragging her feet over the issue for months, Ms Lam withdrew the bill on September 4, but it did little to quell the protests.

Ms Lam said her government would "formally withdraw the bill in order to fully allay public concerns”, but she criticised the actions of protesters.

"No matter what discontentment the people have towards the government or the society, violence is not the way to resolve problems," she said.

Protesters are seemingly unwilling to accept Ms Lam’s peace offering. Since the protests began in June, the largely leaderless movement has added new demands, including an amnesty for all those arrested during the turmoil, an independent inquiry into police violence and universal voting rights.

Updated: September 16, 2019 03:53 PM

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