Hong Kong leader calls for unity after thousands join protests

Events in Beijing mark 68th anniversary of founding of People’s Republic of China

People march through the streets of Hong Kong during an “anti-authoritarian” rally on China’s National Day, in Hong Kong, on Sunday. Photograph: Alex Hoffard/EPA

People march through the streets of Hong Kong during an “anti-authoritarian” rally on China’s National Day, in Hong Kong, on Sunday. Photograph: Alex Hoffard/EPA

 

Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam has called for unity after tens of thousands of people took to the streets on Chinese National Day to protest against the jailing of democracy activists.

Organisers believe 40,000 turned out for the protests. Many are particularly angry at Hong Kong’s justice secretary, Rimsky Yuen, following the jailing of three prominent young democrats, Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow.

Hong Kong has been bitterly divided since the “Umbrella Protests” of 2014, with many in the territory calling for more autonomy, while others prefer to focus on the economic benefits that closeness to China has brought.

Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 and enjoys freedoms such as free speech and legal independence. However, calls for democracy in recent years are viewed with alarm in Beijing.

“As long as we capitalise on our strengths, stay focused, seize the opportunities before us and stand united, I am sure that Hong Kong can reach even greater heights,” Ms Lam told a reception to mark the 68th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.

Scores of Hong Kong activists are facing possible prison sentences for activities during the 2014 protests.

Mr Wong, Mr Law and Mr Chow were originally convicted in 2016 and did not receive prison terms, but the government persisted and they received six to eight-month terms in August.

In Beijing, there were several events to mark national day, including a flag-raising on Tiananmen Square. Xi Jinping, who is head of the ruling Communist Party as well as president, made a speech urging cadres to stick to Marxist thinking.

“If we deviate from or abandon Marxism, our party would lose its soul and direction,” Mr Xi told a study session of the party’s Politburo, quoted by the state news agency Xinhua. “On the fundamental issue of upholding the guiding role of Marxism, we must maintain unswerving resolve, never wavering at any time or under any circumstances.”

The report also said that cadres should study “contemporary capitalism, its essence and patterns”.

Mr Xi’s words show that he is taking a firm line ahead of a Communist Party congress on October 18th at which Mr Xi is expected to tighten his grip on power and introduce a new generation of top leaders.

Since he came to power in 2012, the party has cracked down on civil society, with tougher control of the internet and the media.

The party has also launched an exhibition in the capital highlighting the government’s achievements under Mr Xi. The exhibition features confessions by corrupt officials caught by the anti-corruption campaign and also contains models of bullet trains.

The government has introduced new rules to protect China’s national anthem, March of the Volunteers, making it illegal to use the national anthem during funerals, “inappropriate” private occasions, in advertising or as background music in public places.

“The song will be included in textbooks for primary and secondary schools, and people are encouraged to sing the national anthem on appropriate occasions to express patriotism,” Xinhua reported.

(Additional reporting: Reuters)