Hong Kong protesters march in defiance ahead of National Day
HONG KONG: Thousands of protesters regrouped after police fired tear gas at them Sunday and marched along a thoroughfare in downtown Hong Kong in a second straight day of defiance, sparking fears of more violence ahead of China's National Day.
Protesters, many clad in black with umbrellas and carrying pro-democracy posters, sang songs and chanted "Stand with Hong Kong, fight for freedom" as they took over a stretch of a road over 1 kilometre (half a mile) long and headed toward the government office complex.
Many fled earlier after riot police fired multiple rounds of tear gas to disperse a large crowd that amassed at the Causeway Bay shopping area and threw objects in their direction. But protesters returned to start their march, some carrying American, British and other foreign flags.
Some of them defaced, tore down and burned signages congratulating China's Communist Party, which will mark its 70th year in power on Tuesday. Others sprayed graffiti along walls and smashed windows at a subway exit. A police helicopter was hovering above.
Sunday's gathering, a continuation of monthslong protests for greater democracy in the semiautonomous Chinese territory, is part of global "anti-totalitarianism" rallies planned in over 60 cities worldwide to denounce "Chinese tyranny."
In Sydney, more than a thousand people rallied in support of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, yelling "Fight for freedom" and "Stand with Hong Kong."
On Saturday, police fired tear gas and water cannons after protesters threw bricks and firebombs at government buildings following a massive rally in downtown Hong Kong. The clashes were part of a familiar cycle since protests began in June over a now-shelved extradition bill and have since snowballed into an anti-China movement.
Protesters are also planning to march on Tuesday despite a police ban, raising fears of more ugly scenes that could embarrass Chinese President Xi Jinping as his ruling Communist Party marks the 70th anniversary.
Many said they will wear black as a symbol of mourning in a direct challenge to the authority of the Communist Party, with posters calling for Oct. 1 to be marked as "A Day of Grief."
Hong Kong's government has already scaled down National Day celebrations in the city, cancelling an annual fireworks display and moving a reception indoors.
Despite security concerns, Hong Kong's government said Sunday that Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the city's leader, will lead a delegation of over 240 people to Beijing on Monday to participate in the festivities. She will be represented by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung in her absence and return to the city on Tuesday evening.
Lam held her first community dialogue with the public on Thursday in a bid to defuse tensions but failed to persuade protesters, who vowed to press on until their demands are met, including direct elections for the city's leader and police accountability.
Earlier Sunday, hundreds of pro-Beijing supporters sang the Chinese national anthem and "Happy Birthday" in a counter show of solidarity for Chinese rule. Wearing red and carrying Chinese flags and posters, they chanted "I am a citizen of China" at a waterfront cultural centre. They were later bused to the Victoria Peak hilltop for the same repertoire.
Organizer Innes Tang said the crowd, all Hong Kong citizens, responded to his invitation on social media to "promote positivity and patriotism" and urged protesters to replace violence with dialogue.
"We want to take this time for the people to express our love for our country China. We want to show the international community that there is another voice to Hong Kong" apart from the protests, he said.
Mobs of pro-Beijing supporters have appeared in malls and on the streets in recent weeks to counter pro-democracy protesters, leading to brawls between the rival camps.
Many people view the extradition bill, which would have sent criminal suspects to mainland China for trial, as a glaring example of the erosion of Hong Kong's autonomy under the "one country, two systems" policy put in place when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
China has denied chipping away at Hong Kong's freedoms and accused the U.S. and other foreign powers of fomenting the unrest to weaken its dominance.
In Beijing on Sunday, former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa was recognized for devoting himself to the implementation of the "one country, two systems" policy. Tung, the first leader after Hong Kong's return to China, was among 42 people who received national medals and honours from Xi for their contributions to the country.