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World

AFP
August 19, 2019

Hong Kong protesters flood city streets for largest rally in weeks

World

AFP
Mon, Aug 19, 2019

HONG KONG: A sea of democracy activists flooded the streets of Hong Kong Sunday under torrential rains in a peaceful demonstration to city leaders that their movement still draws wide public support, despite mounting violence.

Hundreds of thousands of umbrella-carrying protesters poured across the heart of Hong Kong island, defying both the downpour and a police order not to march from a park where they had gathered earlier for a rally.

Weeks of demonstrations have plunged the financial hub into crisis, with images of masked, black-clad protesters engulfed by tear gas during street battles against riot police stunning a city once renowned for its stability.

Sunday´s action, billed as a return to the peaceful origins of the leaderless protest movement, drew more than 1.7 million people, making it one of the largest rallies since the protests began about three months ago, according to organisers the Civil Human Rights Front.

It ended a weekend of protests that, as of early Monday, saw no major confrontations with police for the first time in weeks.

"It´s been a long day and we´re very tired, but to see so many people out in the rain marching for Hong Kong gives strength to everyone," said Danny Tam, a 28-year-old graphic designer.

Police said only that the approved rally in the park reached an estimated 128,000 people, not including those packed into the many surrounding streets.

Spiralling unrest, which last week saw protesters paralyse the city´s airport, tarnished a campaign that took pride in its peaceful intent and unpredictability -- which demonstrators have tagged with the slogan "Be Water".

- Police under pressure -

Many among Sunday´s rally-goers carried rucksacks stuffed with protest paraphernalia -- laser pens, gas masks, goggles and helmets.

"We have our gear with us, but we hope not to use it," said a 30-year-old identifying himself only as Man.

Late in the evening hundreds of masked protesters briefly gathered outside the government headquarters shouting "Reclaim Hong Kong, revolution of our times" before dispersing.

"Only when there were violent acts or illegal behaviours which endangered the safety of people at (the) scene, police would stop them by proportionate use of force," the police said early Monday in a statement, adding that it was "unfair" to criticise the officers under such circumstances.

Opinions among the protesters have diverged over the billowing violence, which has seen a small hardcore group using rocks, Molotov cocktails and slingshots against the police.

Some say the violence has driven the pro-democracy movement in an uncomfortable direction.