Hong Kong protesters endure 'torture' to get Beijing's attention

At least 100,000 anti-government protesters have joined a mass rally in Hong Kong, filling major thoroughfares in heavy rain in the 11th week of what have been often violent demonstrations in the Asian financial hub.

Sunday's turnout showed that the movement still has broad-based support despite the ugly scenes witnessed during the past week when protesters occupied the Chinese-ruled city's airport, for which some activists apologised.

"It's bloody hot and it's raining. It's a torture just to turn up, frankly. But we have to be here because we have no other choice," said a 24-year-old student named Jonathan who was at the rally that began in Victoria Park in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong island.

"We have to continue until the government finally shows us the respect that we deserve," he said.

Anger over a now-suspended bill that would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China erupted in June, but the rising unrest has been fuelled by broader worries about the erosion of freedoms guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" formula put in place after Hong Kong's return from British to Chinese rule in 1997.

Protesters held aloft placards with slogans including "Free Hong Kong!" and "Democracy now!" and umbrellas to shield them from the rain.

The crowd in Victoria Park was peaceful and included elderly people as well as the middle-aged, young people and families, with some parents carrying toddlers.

Despite rally organisers not having permission to march, the park could not accommodate the crowd, which thronged the streets around the park.

Many protesters headed towards the city's financial centre, chanting for the city's Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, to step down.

2019Anti-extradition bill protesters stand next to a graffiti during a march to demand democracy and political reforms in Hong Kong
2019Anti-extradition bill protesters stand next to a graffiti during a march to demand democracy and political reforms in Hong Kong. Photo credit: Reuters

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.

It was impossible to put an exact figure on the number of protesters put Reuters journalists, reporting from around the territory, put the total at at least 100,000.

Aside from Lam's resignation, demonstrators are seeking complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, a halt to descriptions of the protests as "rioting", a waiver of charges against those arrested, an independent inquiry and resumption of political reform.

The anti-government protests present one of the biggest challenges facing Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

Beijing has struck an increasingly strident tone over the protests, accusing foreign countries including the United States of fomenting unrest.

Scenes of Chinese paramilitary troops training at a stadium in the city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, gave a clear warning that mainland intervention by force is possible.

Last week, protesters who occupied the terminal at Hong Kong's airport forced the cancellation of nearly 1000 flights and detained two men they thought were pro-government sympathisers, prompting Beijing to liken the behaviour to terrorism.

"We are Hong Kongers. We are here for our future. We feel for the teenagers," said Frances Chan, 60, a retired journalist attending Sunday's rally.

She said only a few protesters had used violence, sparingly, and that it was brought on by pressure from authorities and police.

"Actually, we want peace and freedom," she said. "If the government would just listen to the five requests, things would calm down."

Reuters

 

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