SPECIAL REPORT

Occupy movement marks first anniversary

Mong Kok last year was where the most violent clashes took place during the pro-democracy sit-in. (Top) Protesters occupying a street to block traffic on Oct 20 last year and (above) the same location on Sept 16. Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai (
A crowd of Hong Kongers returned to the main Occupy protest site in Admiralty yesterday, thronging the pavement next to the government compound in Harcourt Road.ST PHOTO: LI XUEYING
Mong Kok last year was where the most violent clashes took place during the pro-democracy sit-in. (Top) Protesters occupying a street to block traffic on Oct 20 last year and (above) the same location on Sept 16. Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai (
Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai (left) and student protest leader Joshua Wong (right) during an interview yesterday outside the government headquarters.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Mong Kok last year was where the most violent clashes took place during the pro-democracy sit-in. (Top) Protesters occupying a street to block traffic on Oct 20 last year and (above) the same location on Sept 16. Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai (
On Dec 13 last year, tents set up by pro-democracy protesters dotted Causeway Bay, blocking traffic.PHOTO: REUTERS
Mong Kok last year was where the most violent clashes took place during the pro-democracy sit-in. (Top) Protesters occupying a street to block traffic on Oct 20 last year and (above) the same location on Sept 16. Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai (
On Sept 16, it was business as usual at the same site in Hong Kong.PHOTO: REUTERS
Mong Kok last year was where the most violent clashes took place during the pro-democracy sit-in. (Top) Protesters occupying a street to block traffic on Oct 20 last year and (above) the same location on Sept 16. Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai (
Mong Kok last year was where the most violent clashes took place during the pro-democracy sit-in. (Above) Protesters occupying a street to block traffic on Oct 20 last year and the same location on Sept 16. PHOTO: REUTERS
Mong Kok last year was where the most violent clashes took place during the pro-democracy sit-in. (Top) Protesters occupying a street to block traffic on Oct 20 last year and (above) the same location on Sept 16. Occupy Central co-founder Benny Tai (
Mong Kok last year was where the most violent clashes took place during the pro-democracy sit-in. Protesters occupying a street to block traffic on Oct 20 last year and (above) the same location on Sept 16. PHOTO: REUTERS

Carnival atmosphere tinged with melancholy as Hong Kongers remember failed bid for electoral reform

With yellow umbrellas, slogan T-shirts and a dogged determination to "tell the government we will never give up", about 1,000 Hong Kongers returned to the main Occupy protest site in Admiralty one year after the movement erupted.

There was almost a carnival-like air as they thronged the pavement next to the government compound in Harcourt Road yesterday.

It was here that the police first unleashed pepper spray and tear gas last Sept 28 against brolly-wielding protesters, marking a pivotal point in the civil disobedience movement and giving it its most recognisable symbol - the yellow umbrella.

Thousands later erected tents on the road, staying there for 79 days.

Yesterday, people cheered as they listened to speeches by pro-democracy politicians and activists, had their T-shirts and umbrellas screen-printed with slogans such as "I am Hongkonger", and waved placards saying "Persist till the end!" Others attended religious services conducted by Catholic priests and Christian pastors at the same site.

DETERMINED

People are frustrated because the movement didn't have a single achievement. And I don't have much hope, to be honest, that there will be change soon. (But) we need to show that we are going to persist.

If there are few of us, the government will be happy and I don't want that.

ACCOUNTS EXECUTIVE CHRIS LAM, 49

At 5.58pm, which was when police fired volleys of tear gas into the sea of protesters last year - the first time the chemical was used against Hong Kongers since the 1960s during unrest led by pro-communist militia - the crowd fell silent to mark the moment.

But even as those present commemorated the historic campaign that shook Hong Kong, unsettled Beijing and made headlines around the world, there was also a sense of melancholy.

The movement failed to achieve its goal of forcing Beijing to liberalise rules for Hong Kong's election of its leader. It today is also riven with divisions over how to proceed.

Says accounts executive Chris Lam, 49: "People are frustrated because the movement didn't have a single achievement. And I don't have much hope, to be honest, that there will be change soon."

But, she adds, it is important that people still turn out for events such as yesterday's. "We need to show that we are going to persist. If there are few of us, the government will be happy and I don't want that."

On whether Occupy was counter- productive - Beijing's stance against Hong Kong has discernably hardened in the past year, teacher Robert Ho, 48, responds: "Democracy is not a free lunch - we have to struggle for it, even if it takes a long time."

In June, the legislature voted against the Beijing-endorsed electoral reform Bill, which essentially limits candidates to only those the central government approves of.

This means that the next chief executive election, in 2017, will continue to be selected by a committee of mainly pro-Beijing Hong Kongers.

For now, say Occupy organisers and activists, there are no plans for more civil disobedience campaigns given public fatigue.

But, said Occupy co-founder Benny Tai yesterday, there is a limit to Hong Kongers' patience. "If the central government continues to deny us genuine democracy, the people of Hong Kong will step out again."

This was echoed by Ms Lam, who remained sanguine about yesterday's low turnout. "I believe Hong Kongers will show up at critical moments. There is no urgency now, since the reform Bill has been voted down and there is no immediate issue that will draw people out."

Watched over by a large contingent of police officers, yesterday's event passed peacefully.

There were some moments of tension when radical party People Power threatened to temporarily occupy part of Harcourt Road. The protesters also exchanged boos with scores of anti-Occupy protesters who had marched from Central to Admiralty, passing through the event site.

The latter accused the Occupy movement of creating societal divisions and called on Hong Kongers to boot out pan-democratic legislators at next year's legislative council elections.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 29, 2015, with the headline 'Occupy movement marks first anniversary'. Print Edition | Subscribe