Hong Kong rallies set to spill into September

Hong Kong protesters braving the rain at yesterday's rally in Victoria Park. The weekend's protests were the first largely peaceful rallies in 11th straight weekends of demonstrations in the city.
Hong Kong protesters braving the rain at yesterday's rally in Victoria Park. The weekend's protests were the first largely peaceful rallies in 11th straight weekends of demonstrations in the city.PHOTO: ASSOCIATED PRESS

Rally organiser says Chief Executive must show peaceful expression will be heard

Hong Kong's summer of discontent looks set to continue sizzling as organisers of yesterday's massive but peaceful rally said there would be another demonstration on Aug 31, and some students said they would boycott classes when the new term starts next month.

Mr Jimmy Sham, convener of the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the group behind the larger protests since June 9, said it has applied for another march from Chater Garden in Central to Beijing's liaison office on the western side of Hong Kong Island on Aug 31.

Aug 31 is "the fifth anniversary of the National People's Congress's undemocratic and restrictive decision on universal suffrage in Hong Kong", the CHRF said.

Worries of more aggressive police tactics plagued student protesters and many told The Straits Times of their fears, but said they still intend to heed calls to boycott classes in September.

Ms Tse Ngo Yi, 25, a part-time sophomore at Education University of Hong Kong, said she would stay at protest venues for "as long as possible", adding: "My parents fully support my decision."

Mr Jeffrey Wong, 23, a final-year student at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, said he will skip classes, if necessary, to pressure the government to respond to the people's demands, including the withdrawal of the now-suspended extradition Bill. "They think that once the summer holidays end, we will have to go back to school, but today's turnout shows that they are mistaken."

However, others, like Hong Kong Baptist University student Ken Tsui, 23, are thinking twice about participating on the front lines. He told ST that the police have stepped up stop-and-search measures against young people. While it would not deter him from joining rallies, he tries not to stay out late.

"I'm ashamed to say that because it feels like I'm not giving my full support to the others, but I'm afraid for my safety as more than 700 people have been arrested."

The police have made some 750 arrests since the June 9 protests.

 
 
 

Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's associate professor Dixon Sing recounted that more than 100 people were arrested on Aug 11, and this has prompted front-line radicals to consider "the overall risks for mounting either a Hong Kong-wide protest or to concentrate in one area".

"The risks for both strategies would have been elevated because in the past they believed that if they have enough manpower to spread around, they can wear down the police. This tactic has proven to have failed given last Sunday's massive arrests," Prof Sing said.

Still, hundreds lingered in Harcourt Road late last night, after police issued a warning for thousands of them to disperse. The police said the protesters had "shot hard objects at the Central Government Complex with slingshots and aimed laser beams at police officers".

Earlier yesterday, protesters gathered at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay for the rally initiated by CHRF. The Front said 1.7 million turned up for the police-approved static rally despite the heavy rain. While police did not approve an accompanying march, thousands packed key roads from North Point to Central on Hong Kong Island. The weekend's protests were the first largely peaceful rallies in 11th straight weekends of demonstrations.

Police, however, put the turnout at Victoria Park at 128,000 people, at its peak, yesterday.

"Today has been peaceful, which is exactly what Carrie Lam asked for," Mr Sham said, referring to the Chief Executive. "Carrie Lam must respond to the five demands in order to show Hongkongers peaceful and rational expression can be heard, accepted and met... If she continues to turn a deaf ear, she is instigating more radical struggles."

A government spokesman noted that while the rally was largely peaceful, there were inconveniences caused to the public after protesters occupied key roads.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 19, 2019, with the headline 'Hong Kong rallies set to spill into September'. Print Edition | Subscribe