Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 20 September 2019

Hundreds of thousands march in Hong Kong despite rain

Over the weekend, rallies were also held around the world in solidarity with both the protesters in Hong Kong but also the government in Beijing

Heavy rain fell on thousands of umbrella-ready protesters on Sunday as they marched from a packed park in central Hong Kong where mass pro-democracy demonstrations have become a regular weekend activity.

Organisers said 1.7 million people attended the rally, although police estimates are likely to be much lower.

While recent rallies have been marred by violent clashes with police, organisers took pains to promote a peaceful march.

"They’ve been telling everyone we're rioters. The march today is to show everyone we are not," said a 23-year-old named Chris, who works in marketing and was dressed all in black, including a scarf covering his face and baseball cap.

"It does not mean we won’t keep fighting. We will do whatever is necessary to win, but today we take a break, then we reassess."

One protester shouted at others who were jeering at police, "Today is a peaceful march! Don’t fall into the trap! The world is watching us," prompting the group to move on.

Demonstrators hold umbrellas at Victoria Park as rain falls during a protest in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong, China, on Sunday, Aug. 18, 2019. Tens of thousands of Hong Kong protesters converged on the centrally located Victoria Park for the weekend’s major rally, after two nights of demonstrations ended peacefully and without police firing tear gas. Bloomberg
Demonstrators hold umbrellas at Victoria Park as rain falls during a protest in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong. Bloomberg

The Civil Human Rights Front has organised three massive marches in Hong Kong since June. While those events were peaceful, the broader movement has been increasingly marked by clashes between protesters and police.

On Saturday, thousands of teachers marched to the official residence of Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, to show support for the protesters, many of whom are schoolchildren.

In Beijing, a spokesman for China’s ceremonial legislature condemned statements from US politicians supportive of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

You Wenze called the lawmakers’ comments “a gross violation of the spirit of the rule of law, a blatant double standard and a gross interference in China’s internal affairs”.

He said that Hong Kong’s 7.5 million people and Chinese population as a whole rejected the actions of a “very small group of violent protesters” as well as “any interference of foreign forces”.

You did not mention any specific person, but numerous US senators and Congress members, including the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have affirmed the American commitment to human rights and urged the Hong Kong government to end the standoff.

Congress also has the power to pass legislation affecting Hong Kong’s relationship with the US in ways that could further erode the territory’s reputation for stability and rule of law.

That includes the recent re-introduction of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in Congress, which would, among its other provisions, require the secretary of state to issue an annual certification of Hong Kong’s autonomy to justify special treatment afforded to the city.

More directly, President Donald Trump could simply issue an executive order suspending Hong Kong’s special trading status with the US, a move that could have a devastating effect on the local economy at a time when Beijing and Washington are engaged in a bitter trade war.

The movement’s demands include the resignation of Ms Lam, democratic elections and an independent investigation into police use of force.

Members of China’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police force have been training for days across the border in Shenzhen, including on Sunday morning, fuelling speculation they could be sent in to suppress the protests.

But the Hong Kong police have said they are capable of handling the protests.

Around the world, both pro-Beijing and pro-democracy protests have been held in solidarity with both sides in the divide.

More than 1,000 people took part in the two demonstrations in the British capital.

Counter-protesters hold up Chinese flags to oppose the protesters gathering in central London to attend a march organised by StandwithHK and D4HK in support of Pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, on August 17, 2019. Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement faces a major test this weekend as it tries to muster another huge crowd following criticism over a recent violent airport protest and as concerns mount over Beijing's next move. / AFP / Isabel INFANTES
Counter-protesters hold up Chinese flags to oppose the protesters gathering in central London to attend a march in support of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong. AFP

The old British colonial Hong Kong flag was seen at the demonstration. The city was a British colony until it was handed back to Beijing in 1997 with an agreement that China would respect the special status of the city for 50 years – until 2047.

Counter-protesters waved Chinese flags and held up signs saying “traitor”, “one nation, one China” and “Hong Kong is part of China forever”.

Meanwhile, in Paris about 50 people – Hong Kongers but also Chinese and Taiwanese – demonstrated in support of the protesters in the former UK colony, chanting “freedom for Hong Kong” and even “freedom for China”.

Here, again, a counter-protest took place with twice as many Chinese waving mainland flags and denouncing the “violence” of “the Hong Kong rioters”.

Updated: August 18, 2019 08:14 PM

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