Hong Kong protests swell as national holiday approaches

More continue to join tens of thousands on streets as crowds are urged to stay the course

Fresh waves of pro-democracy protesters swept into the heart of Hong Kong last night, as a leader of the civil disobedience movement urged them to keep the momentum going until tomorrow's national holiday.

Crowds blocked one of the city’s main roads from the financial area of Central to the bar district of Wanchai in what appeared to be the largest demonstrations yet. Tens of thousands were packed so tightly into Admiralty, around the government headquarters, that it was hard to move through the masses gathered beneath the skyscrapers.

Some have dubbed it “the umbrella revolution” in reference to the umbrellas carried by protesters to ward off teargas or pepper spray attacks, and which also served to shelter them from the fierce sun earlier in the day.

With no sign of police force yesterday evening, the mood was festive rather than angry. Participants held up their smartphones to create a glittering sea of lights and joined in a mass rendition of Do You Hear The People Sing – the revolutionaries' song from the musical Les Misérables.


Many in the overwhelmingly young crowd wore black and sported yellow ribbons. Others had come straight from their offices in smart shirts; two teenage convent girls were still in their white uniforms.

"We hope it will continue until at least October 1st. Then we will announce new actions. It is not realistic for people to occupy Central forever," said Chan Kinman, one of the founders of Occupy Central with Peace and Love. "We have to be careful not to invite a backlash. Any civil disobedience has to be proportionate and at a certain time we have got to stop."

But students have threatened to step up their protests if the government does not respond to their demands by tomorrow.

Hong Kong enjoys considerable autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework and has long been promised universal suffrage for the election of the next chief executive in 2017. Protesters are furious, however, at Beijing’s announcement of tight restrictions on candidates and see the decision as part of a broader attempt to erode the region’s freedoms and culture.

Call for restraint

Yesterday, both Britain and the US urged Hong Kong’s leaders to show restraint and adhere to the promise of universal suffrage. Precipitated by a student strike and expanding dramatically when police used teargas to try to clear the streets on Sunday, the protest movement has taken on a life of its own.

Many of those present yesterday did not identify themselves as supporters of Occupy Central, or even as protesters at all, and said only the police tactics had spurred them into action.

A cluster of young women in smart office clothes, clutching bulging plastic bags, appeared to be on a post-work shopping spree. But they stopped at a hardware store to buy goggles in case of a teargas attack. They were not the only ones. The hardware store sold dozens of pairs of goggles in just 15 minutes."Not everyone goes to the frontline. They need people to support them with resources," said Helen Ng.

But she voiced some concern about the potential implications of the campaign: “We want to maintain the good image of Hong Kong. It’s a world city and we want to maintain the image and not, because of the protests, make people think the quality of the people is deteriorating.”

Mr Chan said that while the movement was “not top-down, but bottom-up”, he believed the months that Occupy spent educating people in non-violent protest had been crucial in shaping events.

Fighting for democracy

“We imagined there would be a great crowd of people as spectators, and only thousands would sit in. But look: they are not afraid to sit in, not afraid of teargas. It is beyond my imagination how tough people are in fighting for democracy.”

The government stepped back earlier in the day, announcing that riot police had been taken off the streets as citizens “have mostly calmed down” and urging people to unblock roads and disperse.

Police said they had used what they believed to be a minimal level of force overnight. But new protests broke out in Causeway Bay and Mong Kok in Kowloon, which continued into last night. Banks, shops and offices were closed in protest areas, bus lines were suspended and civil servants sent home early. Coca-Cola transport workers went on strike in support of the protests, as did some social workers.

More schools have joined the class boycott that began last week and the government has ordered schools in three districts to close for a second day today.

It has also cancelled plans for the annual firework display to celebrate China’s national holiday tomorrow, when a surge in mainland visitors is expected.

Officials say 41 people, including police, have been injured since the protests began and 78 arrested for offences including forcible entry into government premises, unlawful assembly and obstructing police.

But the demonstrators have been remarkably orderly.

On Sunday, protesters held their hands in the air each time they confronted police. Last night, they handed out fresh fruit and crackers, collected rubbish and even fanned passers-by to keep them cool. – (Guardian service)