Hong Kong gears up for pro-democracy rally after latest weekend of unrest

Anti-government protesters stand as the riot police approaches in Hong Kong, on Oct 13, 2019.
Anti-government protesters stand as the riot police approaches in Hong Kong, on Oct 13, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, DPA) - Hong Kong pro-democracy activists are planning a rally on Monday (Oct 14) evening after another weekend of unrest that saw protesters hurl petrol bombs and police reply with tear gas and rubber bullets, as violence in the Chinese-ruled city shows no signs of letting up.

Activists said they planned to gather at Chater Garden in Admiralty district near government headquarters at 7pm to call on Washington to punish China over what they see as the city's sliding freedoms, a day after demonstrators rampaged across the territory.

The rally is being held to call on US senators to support the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which could be discussed and voted on by the House of Representatives as early as this week. The Bill would require annual reviews of the territory’s special trading status – and potentially sanction some Chinese officials.

Monday's rally is expected to be large because it is one of the few protests in recent weeks to be granted permission to go ahead by police.

Peaceful rallies descended into chaos on Sunday as activists and police clashed in chaotic scenes across the Asian financial hub.

In one of the worst incidents, an officer was slashed in the neck by a protester and taken to hospital.

Demonstrators in the New Territories district of Tseung Kwan O attacked two plainclothes officers who they hit repeatedly on the head with hard objects, police said. The officers were taken to hospital with head injuries.

Protesters threw more than 20 petrol bombs at a police station in the gritty working class district of Mong Kok across the harbour in Kowloon, and vandalised metro stations as well as mainland Chinese businesses or those deemed pro-Beijing.

Demonstrators again targeted railway operator MTR Corp, which they accuse of colluding with the government and police by shutting some services early.

The rail network resumed operations on Monday although maintenance work was underway at some stations that had been vandalised. All train services were due to stop for maintenance at 10pm on Monday, except the Airport Express Line.

Embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam is due to deliver her annual Policy Address on Wednesday amid pressure to restore confidence in the government as it grapples with the city's biggest political crisis in decades.

 
 
 

The protests were sparked by a now-abandoned extradition Bill but have widened into a pro-democracy movement and an outlet for anger at social inequality, in a city with some of the world's most expensive real estate.

The city's government said late on Sunday that it found it "baffling" that visiting United States Senator Ted Cruz, who met protesters last Saturday, said he had not seen any violent acts by protesters. 

"While we respect the freedom of speech of foreign politicians, we consider that comments should be based on facts," the government said.

"Everyone can see from media reports that violent protesters conducted violent and vandalistic acts on many occasions in Hong Kong in recent months."

Mr Cruz said on Saturday that Mrs Lam had scrapped a meeting with him. He did not give a reason why but said her office had requested that the meeting be confidential.

The government said the meeting was cancelled because the Chief Executive had another commitment.

Mr Cruz, one of the Bill's champions, had urged protest leaders during his meeting to continue their cause in a non-violent manner. He told reporters later that “the Chinese Communist Party very much wants to characterise these protests as violent acts of terrorism rather than democracy protesters standing up for human rights”.

Another of the Bill’s supporters, Missouri Republican Senator Josh Hawley, visited Hong Kong over the weekend to observe the protests. 

 Asked what his message would be on returning to Washington he replied: “That Hong Kong is in danger of sliding towards a police state and that representative government in Hong Kong is at risk, and that the one country two systems model is at risk.”