By The Straits Times/Asia News Network
After a week of relative calm, thousands of anti-government protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday (Dec 1) chanting slogans such as “revolution of our time” and “liberate Hong Kong”.
The protest, which took place in the bustling shopping district of Tsim Tsa Tsui, came after hundreds of people marched to the United States consulate earlier in the day to show “gratitude” for US support for the demonstrations that have roiled the China-ruled financial hub for nearly six months.
Waving posters that read “Never forget why you started” and black flags with the logo “Revolution now”, protesters marched past the city’s Kowloon waterfront, home to luxury hotels and shopping malls.
Police in riot gear were out in force for the Tsim Sha Tsui march – the third one of the day. The approved march was from the Clock Tower in Tsim Sha Tsui to the Hong Kong Coliseum in Hung Hom via Salisbury Road.
Around 4.45pm, police fired tear gas on Salisbury Road, as some protesters had hurled bricks at officers and others deviated from the approved march route by occupying all lanes of Salisbury Road.
Earlier, police had fired pepper spray and pepper balls to force protesters back onto the approved route but to no avail.
The organiser of the march then announced that the rally would end at 5pm, one hour earlier than the permitted 6pm. Thereafter, police started clearing people from the protest route, telling them that the event had ended and that any continued gathering would be illegal.
Sunday’s protests came as the Hong Kong government is looking into setting up an independent committee to review the handling of the crisis, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung told reporters when asked about an independent review committee. Some critics on social media, however, have said that such a committee would fall short of the independent investigation they have been demanding.
There has been relative calm in Hong Kong for the past week since local elections last Sunday delivered an overwhelming victory to pro-democracy candidates. However, activists have pledged to maintain the momentum of the movement with three marches on Sunday.
“I just want to remind everyone that despite the small victory in district council election, we must not forget why we started all this and we must return to our main theme – reclaim Hong Kong, revolution of our time; five demands, not one less,” an organiser of the Tsim Sha Tsui rally wrote on the Reddit-like LIHKG forum.
Police have issued permits called “letters of no objection” for all three events – including the march to the US consulate and a separate morning protest against police use of tear gas – and the post on LIHKG urged people to remain peaceful.
“I want to beg everyone to remain highly restrained during the hours covered by the letter of no objection. Otherwise I could be charged with inciting riots,” the organiser wrote in the anonymously penned post.
Anti-government protests have rocked the city since June, at times forcing government offices, businesses, schools and even the international airport to shut.
“We had demonstrations, peaceful protests, lobbying inside the council, a lot of things we have done but they all failed,” said a 25-year-old university graduate who wanted to be known only as Felix. “There are still five demands,” he said, referring to protesters’ calls that include an independent inquiry into police behaviour and the implementation of universal suffrage.
Earlier in the day, hundreds of people marched to the US consulate to show “gratitude” for US support of the anti-government protests that have roiled the financial hub for nearly six months.
Waving American flags, with some donning Donald Trump logo hats and t-shirts, protesters unfurled a banner depicting the US president standing astride a tank with a US flag behind him. Another banner read “President Trump, please liberate Hong Kong”.
President Trump this week signed into law congressional legislation that supported protesters in the China-ruled city, despite angry objections from Beijing.
Besides the march to the US consulate, a peaceful morning rally took place on Sunday morning where hundreds of people protested against police use of tear gas.
About 200 people marched against police use of tear gas. Carrying yellow balloons and waving banners that read “No tear gas, save our children”, the protesters streamed through the city’s central business district towards government headquarters on the main Hong Kong island.
Holding umbrellas to shield themselves from the sun, many people were seen pushing their children in strollers, while one man with a balloon festooned to his wheelchair also joined the procession.
“We want the police to stop using tear gas,” said a woman surnamed Wong, who was marching with her husband and five-year-old son. “It’s not a good way to solve the problem. The government needs to listen to the people. It is ridiculous.”
Hong Kong’s months-long protests started over a now-withdrawn extradition Bill that would send suspects to mainland China for trials but have since evolved into other demands including an independent inquiry into police behaviour during clashes with protesters as well as universal suffrage.
Protesters are also angry at what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. China denies interfering and says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” framework put in place at that time and has blamed foreign forces for fomenting unrest.
Last Friday, more than 1,000 police officers in the southern Chinese city of Zhuhai, located across the border from Hong Kong, conducted anti-terror drills, state media reported, adding that netizens in the mainland said the exercises served as a warning to “rioters”.
Meanwhile, China has accused the United Nations high commissioner for human rights of emboldening “radical violence” in Hong Kong by suggesting that the city’s leader conduct an investigation into reports of excessive use of force by police.
The UN commissioner, Ms Michelle Bachelet, wrote in an opinion piece on Saturday in the South China Morning Post that Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s government must prioritise “meaningful, inclusive” dialogue to resolve the crisis.
She urged Mrs Lam to hold an “independent and impartial judge-led investigation” into police conduct during protests. It has been one of key demands of pro-democracy demonstrations that have roiled the territory since June.
China’s UN mission in Geneva says Ms Bachelet’s article exerts pressure on the government and will “only embolden the rioters to conduct more severe radical violence”.
On Saturday night, police fired three rounds of tear gas for the first time since the local elections on Nov 24, after protesters blocked roads in the Mong Kok neighbourhood.
A video that emerged online also showed a protester brutally assaulting a man as he attempted to clear a barricade.
The commentator mocks the man, who stumbles and then slumps over after being hit across the head with a heavy metal object, blood trickling from a wound.
In a radio interview on Sunday morning, police chief Chris Tang said an attack took place in Mong Kok. “It could have killed him,” he said.
A police source confirmed that the incident seen in the video occurred in Mong Kok on Saturday night and that it was under investigation.
The condition of the man was not immediately clear. But the Hospital Authority said three people were brought in on Saturday night with protest-related injuries, one of whom was discharged while the other two were in a stable condition.
NEED TO RETAIN TALENT
On Sunday, Chief Secretary Cheung reiterated the urgency for the city to restore order and peace as soon as possible to retain talent.
In his weekly online article, Mr Cheung urged immediate efforts to bring back peace to Hong Kong in a bid to rebuild the confidence and trust of the international community, as well as the global image of Hong Kong.
It is unavoidable that some local and international talent consider building a career elsewhere for various reasons in the current situation, Mr Cheung said. However, he stressed that there is no massive brain drain in Hong Kong, whose advantages and competitiveness are still recognised by international institutions.
The city’s No. 2 official after Mrs Lam said that fostering and attracting top talent is crucial to the development of Hong Kong, which is facing the challenge of an ageing population and a labour shortage.
He also said that the Hong Kong government will continue working on a human resource plan to make the city more competitive and help the younger generation to grasp the opportunity of development.