Tens of thousands of students converged on the Chinese University of Hong Kong on Monday, lending their weight to the anti-extradition movement with a class boycott to greet the new academic year amid a general strike across the city.
The students issued a fresh ultimatum to the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam, saying the government has two weeks to respond to the five main demands of the anti-extradition movement, or face escalating protest action.
Some 30,000 students attended the rally, organizers said, comparing the numbers to some 13,000 who attended a similar rally at the start of the 2014 Occupy Central movement for fully democratic elections.
Saturday marked the fifth anniversary since China's National People's Congress standing committee ruled out full universal suffrage for Hong Kong, saying instead that all candidates for Legislative Council (LegCo) and chief executive elections must be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee.
Students at Monday's rally chanted slogans in support of the five demands: formal withdrawal of planned amendments to extradition laws; an amnesty for hundreds of arrested protesters; an end to the description of protesters as rioters; an independent inquiry into police violence and abuse of power; and fully democratic elections.
Meanwhile, some 40,000 workers from at least 29 sectors including aviation, finance, social welfare and healthcare held a rally in downtown Hong Kong in support of the anti-extradition movement, at the start of a two-day general strike.
Striking workers said they were angry that the government had made no response to protesters' demands since the last general strike on Aug. 5.
A spokesman for the striking workers said organizers would follow the students in escalating non-violent direct action if the government failed to respond by the two-week deadline.
"If the government does not respond to the five major demands before the deadline on Sept. 13, we will make a decisive escalation, including but not limited to longer strikes," the spokesman said.
"Regarding the details of such actions, we will discuss them and then announce them publicly."
The spokesman said the strike organizers were "encouraged" at the strong turnout in spite of a string of political arrests and sackings from top companies including flagship airline Cathay Pacific in recent weeks.
"We also appeal to more Hong Kong people to continue to come out and speak out on behalf of Hong Kong, without fear of this white terror," he said.
A striking social sector worker who gave only a single name, Winston, said the string of sackings of employees found to have participated in the anti-extradition movement represents a significant erosion of the city's traditional rights and freedoms.
"They promote these so-called core values, but at the same time, colleagues are being encouraged to snitch on each other," Winston said.
"We have reason to believe that this white terror has spread all over Hong Kong," he said. "We call on both private companies and non-government agencies to stop these acts and to uphold the human rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people once more."
Meanwhile, healthcare workers wearing black masks and carrying anti-government slogans, gathered in the lobby areas of several government hospitals, calling on the government to respond to protesters' demands.
Healthcare workers criticize police
Front-line healthcare workers have hit out at the Hong Kong police for the excessive use of force and attacks on bystanders during clashes with anti-extradition protesters at the weekend.
Police in Prince Edward MTR station at one stage prevented ambulance crews from administering first aid to the injured, delaying their access to treatment, local media reported.
The amendments to existing extradition laws are widely seen as a threat to Hong Kong's way of life, which was supposed to have been protected under the "one country, two systems" framework under which the former British colony was handed back to China in 1997.
If they become law, the city could lose its status as a separate legal jurisdiction and trading entity, while journalists, visitors, rights activists, dissidents, democratic politicians, and the business community could be targeted for words and actions deemed illegal by the ruling Chinese Communist Party, and extradited to face trial in mainland Chinese courts.
Reported by Tam Siu-yin and Wen Yuqing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.