Protests in Hong Kong that broke out in June over a now-shelved extradition bill have entered their 11th consecutive week, with a series of events over the weekend that included a peaceful mass demonstration Sunday that organizers said was attended by as many as 1.7 million people.
Carrying both signs and umbrellas, protesters gathered in Victoria Park for a rally organized by the Civil Human Rights Front—a coalition that also planned previous mass demonstrations—before marching through the city's streets. The Sunday rally, but not the marching, had approval from local police, which said that only 128,000 attended the rally.
An estimated 1.7M people showed up to this demonstration in Hong Kong, marking the 11th consecutive week of protests pic.twitter.com/JDvAfblP7B
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) August 18, 2019
This is the view of Gloucester Road in Causeway Bay as protesters march westwards.
— Eric Cheung (@EricCheungwc) August 18, 2019
"The Civil Human Rights Front reiterated the five demands of the anti-extradition law movement," Hong Kong Free Press reported Sunday. "They called for a full withdrawal of the controversial bill and a retraction of characterization of protests as 'riots.' They urged for the unconditional release of all arrested protesters, the formation of an independent commission of inquiry into all events since June, and demanded universal suffrage."
Some protesters also have demanded the resignation of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who quickly suspended the extradition bill after it sparked intense backlash and alarm about what the measure could mean for critics of China. A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 and is now a special administrative region (SAR) operating under a "one country, two systems" policy that protesters have argued was threatened by the extradition bill.
"The Hong Kong government must immediately withdraw the extradition law amendments, ensure the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and allow an independent investigation into the use of force by Hong Kong police against protesters."
—Man-Kei Tam, Amnesty International Hong Kong
"I came here for the future of Hong Kong and the next generation of Hong Kong. The government has not responded to our demands," Amy Bau, a 41-year-old sign language teacher, told The New York Times. "I have come out to march many times, and I will keep coming out if the government continues to not answer us."
"We want the government to listen to us, withdraw the extradition bill, and also have an independent panel investigating police abuse and those officers should be stood down," another protester told CNN. "All these two months we have gone through a lot but we should not lose hope and we should keep fighting."
Though the scattered demonstrations Saturday and major protest Sunday were mostly peaceful and not met with crackdowns by police—despite demonstrators defying the marching ban Sunday—photos and videos of clashes between protesters and police in recent weeks have provoked concerns from local and global human rights advocates.
"The people of Hong Kong have once again demonstrated their resolve by taking part in a peaceful demonstration against a proposed extradition bill," Amnesty International Hong Kong director Man-Kei Tam said in a statement Sunday, in response to the massive turnout over the weekend.
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"We saw how failure in political leadership inflamed tensions between protesters and the police in the past few months," added Tam. "The Hong Kong government must immediately withdraw the extradition law amendments, ensure the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, and allow an independent investigation into the use of force by Hong Kong police against protesters."
Local police have responded to some demonstrations with tear gas and rubber bullets, and have arrested more 700 people since June.
"From frontline activists, to the elderly in nursing homes, to public housing residents, Hong Kongers have faced police brutality in the forms of tear gas, bean bag rounds, and rubber bullets, which they used to disperse and arrest us," the Civil Human Rights Front said in a statement to Hong Kong Free Press. "We've also endured non-discriminant attacks by the triads. Hong Kongers are deeply outraged and abhor the actions of the Hong Kong Government and the Hong Kong Police."
"The way that the police handled the demonstrations that is responsible for most of the resulting chaos," says a Hong Kong protester at a press conference following 11 straight weekends of #HongKongProtests #香港 pic.twitter.com/VWQxcgGCPm
— Bloomberg TicToc (@tictoc) August 19, 2019
A government spokeperson told Channel News Asia Sunday that police only used "minimum force" when they had no choice, pointing to some actions by "radical and violent protesters."
The weekend protests followed a sit-in at Hong Kong International Airport that disrupted flights and highlighted police's response to demonstrations. Some gathered at the airport donned eye patches and carried signs to raise awareness about a female protester who may lose her eye after reportedly being struck by a bean bag round fired by law enforcement.
The airport demonstration, as the Times reported, "took a violent turn on Tuesday when protesters surrounded two men from mainland China, including one identified as a state media journalist, binding them and hitting them. That abuse provoked widespread condemnation from China and apologies from protesters."
Beijing, since June, has continuously ramped up condemnation of the protests, deployed paramilitary forces close to Hong Kong, and reiterated the Chinese government's support for Lam. Geng Shuang, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said at a press conference Monday:
The most pressing and overriding task in Hong Kong at the moment is to stop violence, end the chaos and restore order in accordance with law. The central government will continue its staunch support for the SAR government led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam in governing Hong Kong according to law, for the Hong Kong police in strict and just law-enforcement, and for efforts to bring violent criminals to justice.
Noting that earlier this month, U.S. President Donald Trump said that "Hong Kong is a part of China," so in terms of the ongoing conflict, "they'll have to deal with that themselves" and "they don't need advice," Shuang added, "We hope the U.S. will match its words with deeds."
Following Trump's earlier comments, the president tweeted last week that if Chinese President Xi Jinping "would meet directly and personally with the protesters, there would be a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem." Unlike some top Republicans and Democrats in Washington, Trump has not expressed support for protests, despite reporting that he is under pressure to do so from inside his administration.