Tens of thousands of protesters have marched to keep up the pressure on the Hong Kong government to withdraw a controversial extradition bill, in the latest of a series of mass rallies that have drawn millions of demonstrators over the past month.
The march on Sunday was the first to follow the storming and vandalising of Hong Kong’s legislature by protesters on Monday, a move that drew strong condemnation from the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.
The crowds on Sunday were made up mostly of young people but there were also many middle-aged and elderly protesters. Apart from calling for the full withdrawal of the bill, which the government has suspended after earlier protests, their demands have broadened to urging for the implementation of democratic reforms.
“Hong Kongers, go for it!”, “Retract the bill!”, “Implement genuine universal suffrage!”, chanted the spirited and noisy crowds to the rhythms of drum beats.
Others chanted: “There are no rioters, only violent regimes!”, “Free Hong Kong!”, and “Release the righteous fighters!”
Several waved giant colonial-era flags – which include the British union flag – while others held blue flags emblazoned “HK Independence”.
“I am here to support the young people. It is our fault that we hadn’t spoken out earlier to fight for more freedoms so the task is upon the young now. And they’re so desperate and despondent,” said 68-year-old Mary, referring to last Monday’s storming of the legislature building.
Hong Kong’s authorities appeared nervous that the Sunday march might turn violent.
The police erected giant water-filled barricades to lock down the areas around the West Kowloon railway terminus, where the march was supposed to end, in anticipation of large numbers of protesters. They also closed and diverted several roads in the area. The railway company suspended sales of tickets for high-speed trains to and from the terminus on Sunday afternoon.
Organisers used loudhailers to urge protesters to remain peaceful in the Sunday rally, which has been sanctioned by the police.
Unlike other recent protests, which took place on the Hong Kong Island, where the government headquarters and the legislature are located, the protest on Sunday took place on the Kowloon peninsula.
The march started at a park by the harbour front at Tsim Sha Tsui, an area popular with tourists, and was planned to finish at the West Kowloon railway terminus, where high-speed trains link Hong Kong with mainland Chinese cities.
Organisers said online that the march was aimed at telling mainland Chinese visitors arriving at the train station or people travelling to China why they were protesting about the extradition bill.
Emotions have been running high in Hong Kong over the past month during its biggest political crisis in decades. Millions have thronged the streets to protest against a proposed law allowing for the extradition of individuals to mainland China, where courts are controlled by the Communist party.
The protests forced the government to suspend the bill and its leader, Carrie Lam, apologised for the crisis that had engulfed the city, but protesters demanded that the government fully withdraw the bill and release all those arrested in previous protests.
They also wanted the government to launch an independent investigation into the police’s use of force on 12 June, when security forces used teargas, rubber bullets and truncheons on largely peaceful crowds. They said their demands had fallen on deaf ears as the government showed no sign of making any concessions.
Tensions erupted on Monday, the anniversary of Hong Kong’s 1997 return from British to Chinese rule, when hundreds of angry protesters stormed and vandalised the Hong Kong’s legislature. Police fired teargas after midnight to disperse them.
Protesters on Sunday said even though police had started arresting people involved in earlier protests, it would not dampen their resolve.
“We will keep coming out until the government respond to us. If they keep ignoring us, people can only escalate their fight,” said a young woman who gave her name as Mimi.