A sea of democracy activists flooded the streets of Hong Kong Sunday under torrential rains in a peaceful demonstration to city leaders that their movement still draws wide public support, despite mounting violence and increasingly stark warnings from Beijing.
Weeks of demonstrations have plunged the financial hub into crisis, with images of masked, black-clad protesters engulfed by tear gas during street battles against riot police stunning a city once renowned for its stability.
Sunday's action billed as a return to the peaceful origins of the leaderless protest movement, drew more than 1.7 million people, making it one of the largest rallies since the protests began about three months ago, according to organisers the Civil Human Rights Front.
The rain has started to pour in Hong Kong, but that hasn't put off the thousands of protesters huddling under umbrellas in Victoria Park. The park is so full, many are spilling out onto the surrounding streets: https://t.co/Qraubo4LcH pic.twitter.com/SeD0s8FSJ7
— CNN International (@cnni) August 18, 2019
It ended a weekend of protests that, as of early Monday, saw no major confrontations with police for the first time in weeks.
"It's been a long day and we're very tired, but to see so many people out in the rain marching for Hong Kong gives strength to everyone," said Danny Tam, a 28-year-old graphic designer.
The unprecedented political crisis was sparked by widespread opposition to a plan for allowing extraditions to the Chinese mainland.
But protests have since morphed into a broader call for democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city.
"The police are doing things that are totally unacceptable," said Yim, a protester who like many others gave only one name. "They are hurting citizens. They aren't protecting us."
"We have our gear with us, but we hope not to use it," said a 30-year-old identifying himself only as Man.
— Alejandro Alvarez (@aletweetsnews) July 28, 2019
State media has run images of military personnel and armoured personnel carriers across the border in Shenzhen, prompting the United States to warn Beijing against sending in troops.
Analysts say any intervention by Chinese security forces would be a disaster for China's reputation and economy. But Hong Kong's police are under intense pressure, stretched by repeated flash-mob protests.
Opinions among the protesters have diverged over the billowing violence, which has seen a small hardcore group using rocks, Molotov cocktails and slingshots against the police.
Some say the violence has driven the pro-democracy movement in an uncomfortable direction.
"There are some expressing extreme views," rally-goer Ray Cheng, 30, told AFP. "But we have tried many times with peaceful approaches... I really hope the government can listen to us."
Further demonstrations are planned in coming weeks, including protests planned by Christians and even an accountants’ group.
With inputs from agencies
Updated Date: Aug 19, 2019 15:50:39 IST