JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - South African Nobel peace laureate Desmond Tutu Wednesday backed pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, criticising police for trying to suppress them and calling on Bejing not to "fear the will of its people".
"I salute the courage of the hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens who have participated in mass demonstrations in the territory," said Tutu, who rose to worldwide fame as an opponent of apartheid in the 1980s.
"The firing of teargas at demonstrators, as happened on Sunday, was a bitter blow to what many still hope will be a peaceful, inclusive and dignified transformation process," he said in a statement.
Tens of thousands of protesters have assembled in three major commercial and retail areas of Hong Kong for the past three days, campaigning for free elections in 2017.
The most intense civil unrest Hong Kong has experienced since its 1997 handover from British rule was sparked by Beijing's decision in August to restrict who can stand for the city's top post.
"I pray that the voices of the people of Hong Kong will never be stifled," said Tutu, the Anglican archbishop emeritus.
"And I pray for a compassionate and just government in Beijing that does not fear the will of its people."
Crowds on the streets of Hong Kong are expected to swell on Wednesday before a national holiday marking the 65th anniversary of the founding of Communist China.