Crowds Pack Hong Kong Streets for Another Weekend of Protests

HONG KONG — Another weekend of protests began in Hong Kong on Saturday, days after both the demonstrators and the police came under criticism for taking violence and mayhem to new levels.

The events scheduled for the weekend, beginning with a rally led by teachers, underscore the breadth and variety of the protest movement. The wave of demonstrations began in June to oppose a now-suspended bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China, but the movement has broadened to include other demands, including universal suffrage and an investigation of the police.

[What’s going on in Hong Kong? Here’s a look at how the protests have evolved.]

Under bursts of heavy rain on Saturday morning, a few thousand people gathered in the Central district for rally organized by a teachers’ union.

Brenda Chow, 55, a substitute elementary schoolteacher, was there with her husband and son, who also work in education. “We are here to protect our students, to protect our children and to voice our demands,” Ms. Chow said.

Raymond Ho, 43, a lecturer at the Education University of Hong Kong, said the police’s use of force against protesters had been “totally unacceptable.” The government, he said, “should have a reasonable dialogue with young people and understand why they are so angry these past few years.”

Protest activity in Hong Kong has quieted somewhat in the last few days, as if all sides in the unrest were stopping to catch their breath. Street clashes became intense in several parts of the city last Sunday, with the police firing tear gas into a subway station and the authorities accusing protesters of hurling gasoline bombs.

And on Tuesday, there was a night of chaos at Hong Kong’s international airport, where demonstrators had forced flight cancellations for two straight days. Protesters confronted a man they accused of being a mainland Chinese police officer, pushing him to the ground and kicking him until he fainted, prompting an evacuation by ambulance.

They also surrounded a reporter for a Chinese state-run newspaper, bound his hands and feet, punched him and searched his belongings. Protesters later apologized for their behavior at the airport.

The United Nations’ human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said this week that there was evidence that the Hong Kong police had violated international standards for the use of less-lethal weapons such as tear gas. In a statement, she urged the authorities to act with restraint.

A march planned for Saturday afternoon, in the residential district of Hung Hom, is meant to draw attention to the influx of tour groups from mainland China coming through the neighborhood, one of the event’s organizers, Timothy Lee, told the local news media. Some demonstrators see the rise in visitors from the mainland as one aspect of China’s growing dominance in Hong Kong, a former British colony that has been a semiautonomous territory since its return to Chinese rule in 1997.

Opponents of the protest movement were planning their own demonstration on Saturday afternoon in support of the government.

An animal-protection group had organized a rally for Saturday evening, to call on the police to stop sending police dogs to protest scenes, and to stop using tear gas in residential areas where they could cause discomfort to pets and other animals nearby. But organizers said Saturday morning that the march was canceled.

On Sunday, protest leaders hope for a large turnout at a rally in Victoria Park in the Causeway Bay district. They had applied for a permit to march from the park to Central, essentially the same route taken in two enormous marches against the extradition bill in June, but the police denied them permission. Organizers have appealed that decision, saying that it puts people in danger because many are likely to march regardless.

On Friday evening, thousands of people gathered in Central for a rally, which was peaceful and largely over by 10 p.m.

Surrounded by some of Hong Kong’s iconic skyscrapers, the crowd watched a video message from Brian Leung, a protester known for deliberately removing his mask to show his face after he and others stormed the local legislature’s building in July. He has since left Hong Kong and faces possible arrest if he returns.

“Uncertainty surely abounds when it comes to my future,” Mr. Leung said. “I would still put the movement over my safety.”

Source: NYT

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