Hong Kong sees largest rally in weeks as protesters flood streets braving torrential rains despite warnings from Beijing

A sea of democracy activists flooded the streets of Hong Kong Sunday under torrential rains in a peaceful demonstration to city leaders

FP Staff August 19, 2019 15:50:39 IST
Hong Kong sees largest rally in weeks as protesters flood streets braving torrential rains despite warnings from Beijing
  • A sea of democracy activists flooded the streets of Hong Kong Sunday under torrential rains in a peaceful demonstration to city leaders

  • Protests were held despite mounting violence and increasingly stark warnings from Beijing

  • 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

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.

Hong Kong sees largest rally in weeks as protesters flood streets braving torrential rains despite warnings from Beijing

Hundreds of thousands of umbrella-carrying protesters poured across the heart of Hong Kong island, defying both the downpour and a police order not to march from a park where they had gathered earlier for a rally. AP

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.

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.

Hong Kong sees largest rally in weeks as protesters flood streets braving torrential rains despite warnings from Beijing

Police said only that the approved rally in the park reached an estimated 128,000 people, not including those packed into the many surrounding streets. AP

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.

Hong Kong sees largest rally in weeks as protesters flood streets braving torrential rains despite warnings from Beijing

Anger has been sharpened among protesters by the perceived heavy-handedness of the police, who have used tear gas, baton charges and rubber bullets in incidents that have gained wide attention on social media. Reuters

"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."

Hong Kong sees largest rally in weeks as protesters flood streets braving torrential rains despite warnings from Beijing

Many among Sunday's rally-goers carried rucksacks stuffed with protest paraphernalia -- laser pens, gas masks, goggles and helmets. Reuters

"We have our gear with us, but we hope not to use it," said a 30-year-old identifying himself only as Man.

Hong Kong sees largest rally in weeks as protesters flood streets braving torrential rains despite warnings from Beijing

Late in the evening hundreds of masked protesters briefly gathered outside the government headquarters shouting "Reclaim Hong Kong, revolution of our times" before dispersing. AP

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.

Hong Kong sees largest rally in weeks as protesters flood streets braving torrential rains despite warnings from Beijing

Communist Party-ruled mainland China has in turn sharpened its tone towards the dissidents, decrying the "terrorist-like" actions of a violent minority. AP

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.

Hong Kong sees largest rally in weeks as protesters flood streets braving torrential rains despite warnings from Beijing

"Only when there were violent acts or illegal behaviours which endangered the safety of people at (the) scene, police would stop them by proportionate use of force," the police said early Monday in a statement, adding that it was "unfair" to criticise the officers under such circumstances. Reuters

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.

Hong Kong sees largest rally in weeks as protesters flood streets braving torrential rains despite warnings from Beijing

Police have come under criticism for using increasingly aggressive tactics to break up demonstrations, but there was a minimal police presence on Sunday and no arrests were made. More than 700 people have been arrested since June. AP

With inputs from agencies

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