HONG KONG – Tens of thousands of people turned up at Victoria Park on Sunday (Aug 18) afternoon to attend a rally after a night of largely peaceful protests, in the city’s 11th consecutive weekend of demonstrations against a controversial extradition Bill.
For the first time, police banned the Civil Human Rights Front from holding a march and only allowed it to organise a static rally in the park that can accommodate some 100,000 people.
By 2pm, the park was packed with people, mostly clad in black and some with young children in tow. Ignoring a slight drizzle, the rally participants chanted “Hong Kong yahn, gah yau” in Cantonese, or “Hong Kong people, keep it up”, as well as “Free Hong Kong, democracy now” in English.
Among those who turned up for the rally was pro-democracy group Demosisto’s Isaac Cheng, 19, who was giving out flyers asking people to boycott classes when the new school term starts in September.
When asked if the massive number of arrests have impacted on students’ determination to carry on protesting when the new school term starts, Mr Cheng told The Straits Times that there has been some impact as the frontline protesters have already been subject to violence by the riot police. But he believes this has little effect on the student protesters whom he said will press on.
“Under this kind of abnormal circumstance, we are no longer able to go back to school. We have to boycott classes and fight with the government till the end,” he added.
In an open letter to Hongkongers, the Civil Human Rights Front said that Sunday’s assembly “continues the will of the two million people who marched on June 16th against brutality”.
It added: “Today is not an ending. The path of resistance is long, because, ultimately, only democratic universal suffrage can fundamentally turn around the current situation of unfettered violence from the regime.
“August 31st is the fifth anniversary of the National People’s Congress’s undemocratic and restrictive decision on universal suffrage in Hong Kong. We ask you all to commit to stand together, and to come out again on August 31st!”
The Front has billed the gathering at Victoria Park as a “peaceful, rational and non-violent” rally.
Meanwhile, the MTR Corporation said that for safety reasons, some trains will not stop at the Causeway Bay and Tin Hau stations as they have become very crowded.
The Front is the organiser of massive rallies seen in the past three months: the June 9 march that drew a crowd of a million people and the June 16 march that clocked two million participants – the largest since the city was handed back to the Chinese from the British in 1997.
For the first weekend in almost three months, protests on Saturday (Aug 17) were largely peaceful with no bloodshed or chaos and devoid of violent clashes on the streets between riot police and protesters.
Over the past two months, marches often started out peacefully but descended into violence, with protesters clashing with police who deploy tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd.
On Saturday, thousands gathered in the Hung Hom district for a marchamid a light drizzle where they walked from Hoi Sham Park to Whampoa in Kowloon to Whampoa MTR Station.
While most of the protesters who took part in the march had stopped at the approved end point at Whampoa MTR station, others deviated into other areas.
They headed towards To Kwa Wan where they threw eggs and spray-painted the walls of the workers’ club of pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions (FTU). They said the FTU are the true rioters for their involvement in the 1967 leftist riots.
Other demonstrators continued on to Mongkok, where they surrounded the Mongkok Police Station, which had put up netting to prevent objects from getting tossed in.
Earlier on Hong Kong Island, thousands gathered in a rally in Tamar Park in Admiralty in a show of support for Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, her administration and the police.
The rally, billed as anti-violence, had many participants waving Chinese flags and singing the Chinese national anthem.
Organiser of the pro-government rally, Safeguard Hong Kong Alliance, pegged the turnout at 476,000 people. It added that the protesters have disrupted social order and the rule of law and are destroying Hong Kong.
In the morning, heavy showers did not stop thousands of teachers and students from showing up for a march that called for the Hong Kong government to address protesters’ demands.
Demonstrators gathered at Chater Garden in Central, just hours after a pro-independence rally at the same park the night before.
Protests began four months ago when the Hong Kong government mooted a controversial Bill – now suspended – that would allow the authorities to extradite people to countries it has no formal extradition agreements with, including mainland China.
The anti-extradition protests have since morphed into a broader movement seeking universal suffrage and an independent probe into police’s handling of the protests.
So far, the police have arrested 748 protesters since the June 9 mass rally against the Bill.