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AFP
August 18, 2019

Hong Kong protesters kick off new weekend of rallies

World

AFP
August 18, 2019

HONG KONG: Hong Kong democracy activists kicked off a weekend of fresh protests on Saturday in a major test for the movement following criticism over an airport protest earlier this week — and as concerns mount over Beijing’s next move.

Ten weeks of demonstrations have plunged the international finance hub into crisis, with the communist-ruled mainland labelling the more violent protester actions “terrorist-like”. Activists are billing two rallies — one on Saturday and another planned for today (Sunday) as a way to show Beijing and the city’s unelected leaders that their movement still enjoys broad public support, despite increasingly violent tactics deployed by a minority of hardcore protesters that have cast a shadow.

On Tuesday, protesters blocked passengers from boarding flights at the city’s airport and later assaulted two men they accused of being Chinese spies. The images damaged a movement that until then had largely only targeted the police or government institutions, and prompted some soul-searching among protesters.

China’s state media churned out a deluge of damning articles, pictures and videos. State media also ran images of military personnel and armoured personnel carriers across the border in Shenzhen, prompting the United States to warn Beijing against sending in troops, which analysts say would be a reputational and economic disaster for China.

Saturday’s rallies began with thousands of teachers marching through torrential rain in support of the largely youth-led protests. In the afternoon crowds also began gathering for a march in Hung Hom and To Kwa Wan, two harbourside districts popular with mainland tourists.

“The government has yet to respond to a single demand and has escalated force through the police to suppress the people’s voices,” a 25-year-old protester, who gave his first name Mars, told AFP. The biggest rally is expected to take place today on the main island.

For Sunday’s rally protesters have been permitted to gather in a park but banned from marching through the streets. The protests were sparked by opposition to a plan to allow extraditions to the mainland, but have since morphed into a wider call for democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city.

Beyond suspending the extradition bill, Beijing and city leader Carrie Lam have shown no desire to meet key demands such as an inquiry into police violence, the complete withdrawal of the bill and an amnesty.

In an illustration of the ideological divides now coursing through Hong Kong, pro-government protesters also began rallying on Saturday in a park outside the city’s parliament.

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