Calls for foreign intervention at Hong Kong rally; city braces for 11th weekend of protests

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Thousands gather at Chater Park in downtown Hong Kong for a rally calling on the US and the UK to impose sanctions on Hong Kong officials who they said have suppressed rights and freedoms in the territory. ST PHOTO: LIM YAN LIANG

HONG KONG - Thousands of people on Friday (Aug 16) joined a pro-democracy rally which called for foreign intervention in Hong Kong, as the city braced itself for an 11th straight weekend of street protests.

Clad mostly in black, the protesters at Chater Garden shouted slogans such as "Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times" as they heard speeches from pro-democracy politicians and activists such as Mr Joshua Wong and Ms Margaret Ng.

Rallygoers also cheered as they listened to a pre-recorded speech from Mr Brian Leung, the sole protester who unmasked himself to read out protesters' demands after hundreds stormed and vandalised Hong Kong's legislature on July 1, which marked the 22nd anniversary of the territory's return to China.

Putting Hong Kong in the larger international order is a key step in strengthening the city's democracy and freedoms in the long run, said Mr Leung, who has fled the territory on fears of being arrested.

A series of marches is likely to take place on Saturday and Sunday, even though police have rejected applications for the mass gatherings to proceed.

In a letter to the Civil Human Rights Front - an alliance of 48 political and civil groups who had planned a big march for Sunday - police said 18 anti-government marches since June had ended in clashes. Five of them were organised by the group.

Police gave the green light for a rally at Victoria Park on Sunday, but rejected the front's plan for a march from the park to Chater Garden in Central.

The police's decision to ban the "safe, lawful, peaceful march" showed the force's disregard for public safety, said Mr Jimmy Sham, one of the front's leaders, who reasoned that an organised march was less likely to lead to chaos than if people marched on their own.

Other demonstrations planned for Hung Hom and Tamar Park are likely to proceed despite the lack of police approval.

Signs have also emerged that Hong Kong youth, who make up the majority of the protesters, intend to continue rallying even after the school term begins in a fortnight.

At a news conference on Friday, a group of student union leaders said that secondary school students have indicated in a poll that they are willing to boycott classes.

Nine in 10 of the almost 20,000 respondents in the online survey released by pro-democracy party Demosisto and two student organisations said they supported a campaign to boycott classes "to express their concerns on the social injustice and show their determination for democracy in Hong Kong". Three in five said they preferred the class boycotts to begin on Sept 2, the start of the new school term.

Survey organisers said they would identify suitable venues on Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories for three public assemblies, to be held concurrently with assemblies in schools, and they would apply for letters of no objection from the police.

The plan was criticised by Secretary for Education Kevin Yeung, who said the Education Bureau and schools are against the idea of a boycott when the school term starts.

Students, he said, should be shielded from politics. "We understand that students may hold different opinions for social issues, but there are appropriate ways to express their views," he wrote on Facebook.

On Friday, Hong Kong police said five people - four men and one woman aged between 20 and 22 - were arrested on suspicion of desecrating the China flag.

The rally on Friday evening called for the United States and Britain to impose sanctions against Hong Kong officials "complicit in the suppression of rights and freedoms in Hong Kong".

Besides local speakers, two British Members of Parliament sent messages in support of the protests, and of greater British action to stop the slide of freedoms in its former colony.

"This slow erosion of your freedoms is precisely what the Sino-British Joint Declaration was supposed to avoid," British Labour Party deputy leader Tom Watson said in a video message.

He added that Britain "must not stand idly by as Hong Kongers lose their rights and freedoms".

But US President Donald Trump has distanced himself from the escalating violence as protests drag on in Hong Kong, although he suggested that a direct meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and protesters would lead to a "happy and enlightened ending".

"China is not our problem, though Hong Kong is not helping," Mr Trump tweeted on Thursday.

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