Thousands Occupy Hong Kong For a Second Night in a Row


2014-09-29
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hongkong-mobile-sept2014.gif Pro-democracy demonstrators hold up their mobile phones during a protest near the Hong Kong government headquarters, Sept. 29, 2014.
AFP

Updated at 3:30 p.m. ET on 2014-9-29

Thousands of pro-democracy protesters continued to occupy major roads and intersections in Hong Kong as a massive civil disobedience protest entered its second night on Tuesday, calling on the territory's chief executive C.Y. Leung to step down, and renewing calls for genuine universal suffrage.

Live drone footage streamed online by the Apply Daily newspaper showed thousands settling down for another evening of protest, in what is being dubbed Hong Kong's "Umbrella Revolution," with trucks bringing in supplies and some volunteers even setting up a barbecue at the heart of the city's financial district.

Organizers handed out food and bottled water as thousands of seated protesters chanted "Leung Chun-ying, step down!" on Nathan Road in Kowloon's shopping district of Mong Kok, after hundreds of protesters were slept out overnight on major highways in the downtown business districts of Central and Admiralty and the Causeway Bay shopping district on Hong Kong Island.

The scenes were in stark contrast to the previous night, when helmeted riot police moved in to disperse mass occupations of major highways in the city, firing pepper spray into the faces of demonstrators and raining tear gas down on defiant crowds.

"We will stay here just as long as it takes," a protester who gave the nickname Ying told RFA's Cantonese Service late on Monday. "We don't know how long it will last, and it doesn't matter how long it takes."

A local shop-keeper surnamed Man said a certain amount of disruption was inevitable.

"But I can put up with it, because they're not just acting in their own interests, but in the interests of society as a whole," he said.
"It's fine. It's got to be done."

But a local business owner surnamed Chow said her business had been decimated by the crowd.

"They can demonstrate if they want, but they shouldn't stop other people from making a living," Chow said. "The impact of this is huge; traffic has been paralysed."

Change of mood

Umbrellas used to shield demonstrators from pepper spray and the sun.  (AFP photo)
Umbrellas used to shield demonstrators from pepper spray and the sun. (AFP photo)
AFP

By Monday evening local time, thousands had already descended on Connaught Road in Central, wearing black T-shirts and yellow ribbons, a somber change of mood from the white and yellow of the previous week's student strike.

Police were still visible on the streets Monday, but many lacked full protective riot gear, and by midnight local time there was little sign that riot police stationed in alleyways and side-streets would be deployed to clear the streets.

However, racks of umbrellas were standing by on Connaught Road between Central and Admiralty for protesters to use in the event of further pepper spray attacks.

As camera drones swept across the crowds, protesters lit up the night sky with thousands of lights from individual smart-phone torches as students, office workers, teachers and social workers swelled their number further.

A large paper effigy of Leung with demonic teeth drew boos from the crowd, while protesters in Admiralty decked out an abandoned double-decker bus as a mock ancestral 'shrine' to Leung, complete with floral tributes and photograph.

Beijing reaffirms Leung support

Beijing on Tuesday threw its support behind C.Y. Leung, in spite of widespread calls for his resignation.

A spokesman from the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said Beijing will 'unswervingly' support Leung's administration.

Occupy Central co-found Chan Kin-man said the government's actions since Friday should be condemned in the strongest terms.

"We believe that the government's heavy handed tactics and their suppression of the demonstrations would make any person of conscience feel ashamed by association," Chan told reporters late on Monday.

"Conscientious, accountable officials and members of the administration should resign, and stand together with the citizens [of Hong Kong]," he said.

The Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) condemned the use of force against protesters.

"In using an unnecessary degree of force against peaceful demonstrators gives us considerable concern for the safety of journalists on the front line," HKJA chairwoman Sham Yee-lan told RFA.

"A lot of media organizations were providing 24-hour coverage from the scene, and they too were injured when they started firing tear-gas," Sham said.

Impeachment motion

Pan-democratic politicians said they are drafting a motion in the Legislative Council to impeach Leung, and will seek to recall legislators to debate the government's handling of the protests before the end of recess on Oct. 8.

Many protesters who turned out on Monday told reporters they had come out of anger at police over their handling of the Occupy Central disobedience movement, which began on Sunday as a mass spontaneous protest at the use of force against peaceful demonstrators.

Many schools and businesses in the affected areas were closed on Monday, and all kindergartens, primary schools and secondary schools in Wanchai, Central and Western districts of Hong Kong Island would remain closed on Tuesday as well, education officials said.

"I saw a lot of police on Saturday and Sunday behaving violently towards the people of Hong Kong, spraying pepper spray into their faces, and tear-gas," a 16-year-old protester and high-school student told RFA.

"I think that was very unjust, and that's why I am here to make my voice heard."

Student groups have warned that protests and strikes could escalate still further if their demands for public nomination of election candidates and Leung's resignation aren't met by Wednesday.

But Leung's second-in-command Carrie Lam said it was "unrealistic" to expect Beijing to change its mind on the issue of public nominations of candidates in 2017 elections for the next chief executive.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party, which took charge of Hong Kong in 1997 under the terms of a treaty with the U.K., said via its National People's Congress (NPC), the country's main legislature, on Aug. 31 that any candidate standing in the poll must be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee, making the selection of any pan-democratic candidate highly unlikely.

'Fake universal suffrage'

Activists and pan-democratic politicians have dismissed the proposals as "fake universal suffrage," and hit out at Leung's administration for playing down calls for public nomination in its official report to Beijing.

On the streets, the mood appeared much lighter on Monday, with mass singalongs of homegrown hits and protest songs, including the Cantonese-language version of "Can you hear the people sing?" from the blockbuster musical Les Miserables.

In the crowd near the Centre for the Performing Arts between Central and Wanchai, a second-year university student surnamed Wong said he had no regrets about the disruption.

"We may be inconveniencing some people who need to get to work, or somewhere else, but we are hoping that the majority will take part in this civil disobedience movement, so we can have an even bigger impact and put even more pressure on the government," Wong said.

"[We want them to] genuinely listen to our demands."

"Everyone here has the same aim, and that is to fight for genuine universal suffrage and public nomination of election candidates," he said.

Peaceful action

Meanwhile, a university student surnamed Chan said she was fully in favor of civil disobedience.

"I am in support of peaceful action, without creating too much chaos," she said. "We should do everything we can to use peaceful methods to fight for what we want to fight for."

And a mainland tourist on the streets near Admiralty said they had happened to arrive in Hong Kong--a favorite shopping destination for tourists from across the internal border--on vacation ahead of the Oct. 1 National Day holiday week.

But he said he supported the Occupy campaign.

"I support it, I understand it, and...I hope they will hang in there, otherwise there will be no hope for political reform," the tourist said.

"All this talk of security and stability; whose security and stability are we talking about? Stability is for the ruling elite," he said.

"Now they're worried, and they got it wrong yesterday; they went too far, because they're afraid of the students."

Tear gas use defended

Assistant police commissioner Cheung Tak-keung meanwhile defended the use of tear gas, which was deployed on 87 "occasions" throughout the previous night's protests that brought traffic to a standstill on major highways and saw schools and businesses close on Monday in the worst-hit areas.

Cheung indicated that many more rounds than 87 might have been fired, adding that police had used "minimum force" in a bid to clear the area, but occupiers remained in position in most major locations through the night.

He said people couldn't be injured by tear gas, only made uncomfortable, saying it was brought in after the pepper spray proved ineffective.

"After repeated warnings, police used the minimum force in order to maintain a distance between the protesters and the police so that injuries would be prevented," Cheung told a news conference on Monday evening local time.

However, Cheung declined to say whether the use of force had been personally approved by Leung.

The Hong Kong government has announced it will cancel a public fireworks display in the city's iconic Victoria Harbor on Wednesday to celebrate the founding of the People's Republic of China under late supreme leader Mao Zedong.

Consultation postponed

Officials said they may also postpone a public consultation on electoral reform proposals that sparked pro-democracy protests in the first place.

It was unclear whether police planned the further use of force to clear the occupied areas on Monday. Officers in regular uniform maintained a discreet presence around protesters, but local media reports showed many more police in full riot gear waiting in side-streets and alleyways, ready for deployment.

Occupy Central co-founder Chan Kin-man called on local people to sustain the occupation until the government addresses the people's demands for public nomination of candidates in 2017 elections for the chief executive, and the resignation of C.Y. Leung.

But he said if anyone started to get hurt, the crowds should retreat.

Occupy's founders had previously only envisaged a mass civil disobedience rally in Central, and Chan said the occupations of other districts had been spontaneously decided on by citizens.

"Hong Kong people are fearless towards tear gas and think it is manageable,"
he said. "So I would not suggest protesters retreat at this moment," Chan said, adding that the Occupy organizers didn't consider themselves the arbiters of how long the protests would continue.

In London, a Foreign Office spokesman said the government is monitoring events in the former British colony closely.

"The British government is concerned about the situation in Hong Kong," the spokesperson was quoted as saying in a statement posted on the Foreign Office website.

"Hong Kong's prosperity and security are underpinned by its fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to demonstrate,"
it said, adding: "These freedoms are best guaranteed by the transition to universal suffrage."

But it gave no indication of whether or not it considered Beijing's electoral plans for Hong Kong genuine universal suffrage.

In Washington, the State Department had said on Sunday it supports Hong Kong's well-established traditions and fundamental freedoms, such as peaceful assembly and expression.

Chinese media comment

China's official media has already dubbed the protests "illegal," saying they spoil the financial hub's international image.

"The radical activists are doomed," the tabloid English-language Global Times wrote in an editorial on Monday. "Opposition groups know well it's impossible to alter the decision of the [NPC] on Hong Kong's political reform plan."

It echoed chief executive Leung's promise that the People's Liberation Army (PLA), billeted in the former British colony since 1997, won't be involved in any operation to clear the city's streets.

It said comparisons with the PLA crackdown on unarmed student-led protesters in June 1989 were "groundless" and designed to stir up trouble.

"China is no longer the same nation it was 25 years ago," the paper said.
"The country now has more feasible approaches to deal with varied disturbances."

China's Internet censors have been hard at work deleting any social media posts relating to the Occupy movement in Hong Kong, a survey found.

The number of tweets blocked or deleted on Sina Weibo rose five-fold between Friday and Sunday, the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Center censorship index found.

However, Beijing-based civil rights activist Wu Tianli said she had managed to find out about the weekend's crackdown and the Occupy movement nonetheless.

"I was extremely worried for them [at first]," Wu said, drawing on her own experience of the 1989 student movement. "I went through such times here, when all the people were taking food and water...but in the end they opened fire."

"But then I realized that the times have changed. We have the Internet now."

Reported by Wen Yuqing, Grace Kei Lai-see, Pan Jiaqing, Lau Won, Wei Ling and Ho Shan for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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