Thousands of pro-democracy protesters hit the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday for the 10th weekend in a row, once again defying police after a night of “hit-and-run” rallies across the city.
Activists calling for greater democratic freedoms in the city have shown no sign of standing down, despite Hong Kong’s leader insisting she will not meet their demands.
Early Sunday afternoon, hundreds of protesters were gathered in the city’s Victoria Park, braving hot and humid conditions and a police ban on the demonstration following a planned march route from the park.
“The police should try their best to maintain public security instead of rejecting our request to march,” said a 25-year-old protester who gave only her family name, Wong.
“We’re still here… and we’ll see if we feel like marching later. We won’t worry that much about illegal assembly. We still have our rights,” she told AFP.
Police have given protesters a permit to gather at the park, but denied their request to stage a march through an eastern part of Hong Kong Island.
They also denied protesters a permit for a second protest in the city’s working class neighbourhood of Sham Shui Po, but a rally was also underway there.
‘Freedom from fear’
“It will be no good for Hong Kong if everyone is scared and no one dares to come out,” Wong said. “We should have freedom from fear.”
The fresh protests come after a night of cat-and-mouse demonstrations around the city, with protesters taking their mantra of flexible action — “Be Water” — to new heights.
Groups of protesters sporting helmets and gas masks, dressed in their movement’s signature black, blocked intersections across the city for hours throughout the night.
In several locations riot police fired tear gas, and 16 people were arrested, but the rallies largely avoided the lengthy pitched battles between the two sides that have been seen in recent weeks.
Protesters said they were adopting a new strategy to try to minimise direct confrontations with police.
“Our aim is no injuries, no bleeding and not getting arrested,” said a 17-year-old student protester who gave his family name as Chan.
“I think our previous tactics of staying in one place led to many arrests and injuries… We need to ‘be water’ to avoid injuries,” he told AFP at the Victoria Park gathering.
Protesters were also on their third and final day of a sit-in at the city’s airport that was billed as way to explain their movement to sometimes bemused arriving visitors.
The demonstrations that began more than two months ago in opposition to a bill allowing extraditions to mainland China have morphed into a broader bid to reverse a slide in democratic freedoms in the city.
The movement has been seen as the biggest threat to Beijing’s rule of the semi-autonomous Chinese city since its handover from the British in 1997.
And the city’s Beijing-appointed leader Carrie Lam has made clear she will not grant the protesters’ demands, which include a full withdrawal of the now-suspended extradition bill, direct election of the city’s leader and an investigation into police violence.
On Friday she ruled out concessions “in order to silence the violent protesters,” saying what the city needed was “to stop the violence.”
On Saturday, she addressed students at Hong Kong army cadets camp and warned that the city was “suffering from external worries and internal perils, and the risk of an economic downturn is very high.”
“Every person who cherishes Hong Kong and loves peace should work hard together and safeguard our beautiful home.”