Thousands in HK defy Xi with rallies

AFP

HONG KONG: Thousands of pro-democracy protesters took to Hong Kong’s streets yesterday, defying a warning by Chinese President Xi Jinping, as a campaign of mass disruption extended into a fifth straight day.

Black-clad protesters also occupied university campuses, while office workers endured another day of transport chaos with suspensions on the vandalised train network and roads blocked by barricades.

Hong Kong has seen relentless protests since June as many in the city of 7.5 million people have vented fury at eroding freedoms under Chinese rule.

Those protests had been mainly in the evenings and on weekends, allowing the international financial hub to still function relatively smoothly during the week albeit with its economy dragged into recession.

With China offering no concessions, protesters switched tactics on Monday when they launched a “blossom everywhere” campaign to cause as much disruption as possible across Hong Kong and overwhelm the police force.

Their actions through the week have caused chaos across Hong Kong and been accompanied by intensifying violence from both sides — two people have died in a week in incidents linked to the protests.

The five-day ‘strike’ has also seen major universities become a hub for the protesters — the first time a movement characterised by its fluidity and unpredictability has coagulated in fixed locations.

Violence from both sides has also escalated, and tensions have spilt out overseas.

On Thursday night Hong Kong Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng fell in London after being surrounded by pro-democracy protesters, in the most physical confrontation involving a member of cabinet since the unrest began.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam yesterday condemned the incident, describing it as a “barbaric attack”.

Cheng walked away from the confrontation without any visible signs of injury.

Yesterday a “Lunch With You” event saw thousands of mainly office workers take to the city’s streets, many chanting “Stand with Hong Kong” and raising an open hand with five fingers splayed.

It is a reference to the five demands of the protest movement, which include the right to freely elect Hong Kong’s leaders, as well as an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.

“The government did not respond even when two million residents marched peacefully,” a 25-year-old office worker who gave her surname as Wong said in the city’s Central district, in reference to huge rallies that were a feature of the start of the movement.

“Now when the police are abusing their power the government…only thinks protesters are the problem.”

The unrest was triggered by opposition to the Hong Kong’s government plan to introduce a law allowing extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China.

The government belatedly withdrew the bill months into the unrest, but by then it had morphed into a much wider campaign for democratic freedoms and against the police. – AFP

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