After Tumult, Hong Kong Gauges Support for Protests With Mass Rally

HONG KONG — Hong Kong protesters gathered for a mass rally Sunday, a measure of the movement’s strength after more than two months of demonstrations, days of ugly violence and increasingly vehement warnings from the Chinese government.

People began gathering in the early afternoon in Victoria Park, the starting point of vast peaceful marches in June that were joined by hundreds of thousands of protesters. The police approved the Sunday rally but objected to plans to march to the Central district, citing clashes that had occurred after previous events. But many protesters said they would march regardless.

The turnout was being closely watched as a gauge of public sentiment after several tumultuous days. One week ago, riot police officers fired tear gas in one subway station and chased protesters down an escalator in another. At the Hong Kong airport, days of sit-ins swelled to fill the main terminal, forcing the cancellation of hundreds of flights.

The situation at the airport took a dark turn on Tuesday when protesters surrounded two men from mainland China, including one identified as a state media journalist, binding them and hitting them. That abuse provoked widespread condemnation from China and apologies from protesters.

In recent days, the protests have quieted somewhat. The airport limited terminal access to passengers, halting demonstrations there. On Saturday, when protests were held at several places across the city, riot police officers chased off a few hundred black-clad demonstrators who had surrounded a station, but did not fire tear gas. The authorities later said a police officer had fired a bean bag round at a person who had thrown a trash can and other items at a police vehicle in the Mong Kok district.

ImagePro-China activists during a rally in Sydney, Australia, on Saturday.
CreditSaeed Khan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Entering the weekend, the repeated call among protesters was to prepare to rally Sunday.

The protests began in June over a Hong Kong government proposal that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China. That legislation has been shelved, though not completely withdrawn, and the demands of the protesters have grown to include expanded direct elections, an independent investigation into police use of force, and amnesty for arrested protesters.

The Chinese government has criticized the protests in strong terms, calling the airport violence “close to terrorism” and warning that the military could be called in. Paramilitary police officers have gathered for drills in the nearby city of Shenzhen, and a video carried by state media late Saturday showed hundreds of riot police officers with shields and batons charging at men dressed in black.

In cities around the world, including London, Toronto, Sydney, Melbourne and New York, protesters took to the streets on Saturday to show support for the planned demonstration in Hong Kong. One activist and organizer in New York estimated that at least 40 cities had planned similar rallies.

In Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city, scuffles broke out between Hong Kong protesters and pro-Beijing groups. And in Sydney, supporters of the Chinese government denounced the Hong Kong democracy movement and shouted profanities at a handful of counterprotesters.

In New York, hundreds of people dressed in black, including Alvin Yeung, a Hong Kong lawmaker, and Nathan Law, a prominent Hong Kong activist, gathered in Chinatown for a rally and then snaked over the Manhattan Bridge.

At one point, demonstrators put their hands over their right eyes to show support for a woman in Hong Kong who was hit in the eye with a projectile during clashes with the police. Across the street, a smaller group of pro-China protesters waved flags and chanted nationalist slogans.

Mr. Yeung, a vocal critic of the Hong Kong government, said it was important for people around the world to support the Hong Kong protesters. “Hope is the only thing we have,” he said.

Source: NYT

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