HONG KONG – Hong Kong’s pro-democracy activists returned to the streets on Sunday for protests, a week after the pan-democracy camp swept local elections.
Following two relatively quiet weeks, the protesters were out in force again for three authorized marches in different parts of the city, each bigger than the one before.
At 3:00 pm local time (0700 GMT), thousands thronged Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon for a march held under the theme “Never forget why you started,” designed to reiterate protesters’ five demands in the ongoing anti-government movement, including the establishment of an independent body probing alleged police brutality and the introduction of universal suffrage.
Chanting familiar slogans such as “Hongkongers, revenge!” and “Five demands, not one less,” the demonstrators marched peacefully to the adjacent district of Hung Hom, where violent clashes with police took place a fortnight ago, resulting in a 13-day siege of the nearby Polytechnic University, which ended on Friday.
Earlier in the morning, a march took place under the theme “Children don’t want tear gas.” Hundreds of participants, many of them parents and children holding fluffy animal toys, gathered in a harbor side square in the core business district of Central to demonstrate against the use of tear gas in protests.
“The movement is not going to end anytime soon. There are lots of issues the government has yet to deal with. I’m worried about the long-term effects of tear gas on my children,” a young mother of two, who identified herself as Mrs. Ho, told EFE in between chanting slogans such as “Children don’t need tear gas but poison-free playgrounds.”
“I told them not to touch any object in places where tear gas has been fired. Some of my girlfriends have delayed pregnancy plans as they don’t know what harm the tear gas may have on babies,” she said.
In the more than five months since the protests began in June, Hong Kong police have allegedly fired more than 10,000 rounds of tear gas across the city, sparking public health concerns over the possible release of dioxins. But the health authority has said there is no evidence of that, and the police would not reveal the chemical ingredients in the tear gas, citing “operational need.”
The protesters’ cry for freedom continued shortly after midday, when around 1,000 people gathered in a garden in Central for a march under the theme of “Thanking the US” for passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.
American flags were waved and the “Star Spangled Banner” was played before the crowd set off to the US Consulate General. Afterwards, some protesters moved on to the Tsim Sha Tsui march.
Protester Sunny Chan, a 26-year-old surveyor who waved an American flag at the midday march, told EFE that the protest movement would continue.
“Last month, many brave fighters were heavily injured, so people are taking a breather. But as long as the government doesn’t address people’s demands, we’re not going to stop the fight. I think it only takes some trigger, some unexpected incident for people to go up in arms again,” he said.
Hong Kong has been in a state of turmoil since early June when millions took to the streets protesting against an extradition bill. In the week leading to mid-November, unprecedented violent clashes broke out between protesters and police.
Yet the situation quietened down again and two positive developments for protesters ensued. Last Sunday, the local district council elections saw a record high turnout rate of 71.2 percent. The pro-democracy camp won a sweeping victory, securing close to 400 out of 452 seats. Three days later, US President Donald Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.
In the days that followed the two developments, activists basked in euphoria, staging peaceful lunchtime protests on weekdays in various districts. On Saturday night, however, hundreds of protesters gathered around a metro station and blocked roads in the residential area of Prince Edward. Riot police briefly fired tear gas to disperse the crowd.