Thousands in Hong Kong join rallies despite rain; more weekend protests planned

Demonstrators near a police station in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, after a march in the residential district of Hung Hom, on Aug 17, 2019.
Demonstrators near a police station in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong, after a march in the residential district of Hung Hom, on Aug 17, 2019.PHOTO: NYTIMES
Riot police advance during the "Reclaim Hung Hom and To Kwa Wan, Restore Tranquility to Our Homeland" demonstration against the extradition bill at Mong Kok, in Hong Kong, on Aug 17, 2019.
Riot police advance during the "Reclaim Hung Hom and To Kwa Wan, Restore Tranquility to Our Homeland" demonstration against the extradition bill at Mong Kok, in Hong Kong, on Aug 17, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS
The rally, organised by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union, was also meant to be a show of solidarity between educators and the mostly-young protesters.
The rally, organised by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union, was also meant to be a show of solidarity between educators and the mostly-young protesters.PHOTO: REUTERS
Teachers protest against the extradition Bill during a rally organised by Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union in Hong Kong on Aug 17, 2019.
Teachers protest against the extradition Bill during a rally organised by Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union in Hong Kong on Aug 17, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS
Teachers protest against the extradition Bill during a rally organised by Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union in Hong Kong on Aug 17, 2019.
Teachers protest against the extradition Bill during a rally organised by Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union in Hong Kong on Aug 17, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS
Teachers protest against the extradition bill during a rally organised by Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union in Hong Kong on Aug 17, 2019.
Teachers protest against the extradition bill during a rally organised by Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union in Hong Kong on Aug 17, 2019.PHOTO: AP
Teachers protest against the extradition Bill during a rally organised by Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union in Hong Kong on Aug 17, 2019.
Teachers protest against the extradition Bill during a rally organised by Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union in Hong Kong on Aug 17, 2019.PHOTO: AP

HONG KONG - Thousands gathered in the Hung Hom district on Saturday (Aug 17) for a march amid a light drizzle as police gave last minute approval for the march on a different route as Hong Kong enters its 11th consecutive weekend of protests.

In spite of a persistent drizzle, drummers gave the rally from Hoi Sham Park to Whampoa in Kowloon a festive atmosphere as marchers chanted protest slogans, including "liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times".

Over the past two months, marches often start out peacefully but descend into violence, with protesters clashing with police who deploy tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the crowd. 

Architect Vincent Choi told The Straits Times that he has been participating in the rallies since June 9, when some one million people took to the streets against a controversial extradition Bill that would allow for fugitives to be handed over to several jurisdictions including mainland China. 

"Today has been peaceful so far because there's minimal police presence. I think whenever there are police, people will stay around as there's safety in numbers. I've only participated passively, but I don't judge what others do as we're fighting for the same thing," the 32-year-old said, referring to recent scenes of violence. 

Said advertising executive Kathy Chau, 30: "I'm here (to march) as I still believe there's a chance that the government will do the right thing and address our demands. I don't think the government should expect the protests to die down as things have evolved since (the Umbrella Movement) in 2014.

"We've been very clear in what we want and will persist week after week till we get there."

While most of the protesters who took part in the march had stopped at the approved end point at Whampoa MTR station, others deviated into other areas. 

They headed towards To Kwa Wan where they threw eggs and spray painted the walls of the workers' club of pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions (FTU). They said FTU are true rioters for their involvement in the 1967 leftist riots.

 
 

These protesters lined up pineapples at the entrance of the club in a reference to FTU's links in the 1967 leftist riots in which bombs, known locally as pineapples, were thrown by rioters.

Another group veered off to Hok Yuen street and threw eggs at the office of pro-Beijing Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmakers Starry Lee and Ann Chiang.

Other demonstrators continued on to Mongkok, where they surrounded the Mongkok Police station, which had put up netting to prevent objects from getting tossed in.

In a statement issued shortly after 7pm, the police said that a large group of protesters had surrounded Mong Kok Police Station, "aiming laser beams at police officers and hurled miscellaneous objects, posing a serious threat to the safety of police officers at scene".  They warned that they would disperse the crowd.

Meanwhile, residents gathered in the streets of Mong Kok, shouting at the police.

Shortly past 7pm, police in riot gear and armed with long shields showed up on Nathan Road in Mongkok,  where nine in 10 shops were closed in anticipation of possible clashes, to clear the crowd as many curious passersby milled around to watch the action. But protesters quickly scattered and police soon left the area. 

Ms Lily Hui, 45, a money changer on Shantung Street, said business on Saturday night fell by two-thirds, as foot traffic was affected by protesters.

 
 

A stallholder at nearby Ladies Market, who gave his name only as Mr Xie, said there was about half as much traffic on Saturday evening than most Saturdays, while a worker at Kaishi bakery along Nathan Road, the main thoroughfare in the area, said they shuttered at 7.20pm on instructions of the property management office. The bakery reopened only at 8pm.

The FTU have condemned the radical demonstrators in a statement, saying: "We express our outrage and strong condemnation of the protesters affecting the normal operation of the club."

FTU chairman Huang Guoqiang warned the radical demonstrators to stop their acts immediately, adding that tolerance from the FTU and their workers does not mean they are weak, urging the government and police to bring the culprits to justice so peace can return to Hong Kong.


Pro-government and pro-police supporters wave Chinese flags during a rally in Tamar Park in Hong Kong on Aug 17, 2019. PHOTO: EPA - EFE 

Earlier on Hong Kong Island, thousands gathered in a rally in Tamar Park in Admiralty in a show of support for Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, her administration and the police.

The rally, billed as "anti-violence", had many participants waving Chinese flags and singing the Chinese national anthem.

Organiser of the pro-government rally, Safeguard Hong Kong Alliance, pegged the turnout at 476,000 people. It added that the protesters have disrupted social order and the rule of law, and are destroying Hong Kong. 

In the morning, heavy showers did not stop thousands of teachers and students from showing up for a march that called for the Hong Kong government to address protesters' demands.

Demonstrators gathered at Chater Garden in Central, just hours after a pro-independence rally at the same park the night before.

Umbrellas in a profusion of colours sprouted as rain fell on the procession to Government House, and protesters could be heard chanting "students, add oil (go on)!" and "Hong Kong police, know the law yet breaking the law".

The rally, organised by the Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union, called on teachers to "speak their conscience", and for the government to address protesters' five demands, which include universal suffrage and the unconditional release of all arrested protesters.

 
 
 

It was also meant to be a show of solidarity between educators and the mostly-young protesters.

Organisers said 22,000 attended the rally but police put the number at 8,300.  

Protests began four months ago when the Hong Kong government mooted a controversial Bill - now suspended - that would allow the authorities to extradite people to countries it has no formal extradition agreements with, including mainland China.

It has since morphed into a broader movement seeking universal suffrage and an independent probe into police handling of the protests.

A university lecturer surnamed Li said he felt the need to speak up after seeing students get arrested for participating in anti-government marches.

Police said on Friday that they had arrested 748 protesters since the June 9 mass rally against the Bill, following which protests had become increasingly confrontational.

"The government needs to respond to the five demands that the Hong Kong public has made," Mr Li told RTHK.


Police officers in riot gear outside a police station in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong as protesters gathered outside the station, on Aug 17, 2019. PHOTO: THE NEW YORK TIMES

Citing public safety concerns, Hong Kong police had earlier rejected the planned march for Saturday from Hung Hom to To Kwa Wan in Kowloon, as well as a Sunday march from Victoria Park in Causeway Bay to Chater Road.

But police gave the green right for an amended route from Hoi Sham Park in To Kwa Wan to Whampoa MTR station, on condition that organisers put in place at least 100 marshalls, and to ensure that participants not take part in illegal activities at the end point.

Authorities also gave the go ahead for a static rally on Sunday at Victoria Park.

Hong Kong protesters will be joined by demonstrations of support in cities across the world this weekend, including San Francisco and London, as well as cities throughout Canada, Australia, Germany and Taiwan.