HONG KONG: Tens of thousands of black-clad protesters flooded into the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday, ending a brief election lull and demanding the government make concessions after pro-democracy candidates won a landslide victory.
The protests come a day after police clashed briefly with demonstrators, firing tear gas for the first time since the November 24 district council elections.
Hong Kongers have rallied in huge numbers over the last six months, fueled by years of growing fears that authoritarian China is stamping out the city’s liberties.
Those turning out on Sunday said they were determined to keep up the pressure on local authorities who have offered no concessions despite the electoral result.
“The government are still not listening to us so the protests will go on, they will not stop,” said a 20-year-old student who gave only his surname, Chen.
“It is hard to predict what will happen. But the people are still very angry and want change,” he told Agence France-Presse in the Tsim Sha Tsui neighborhood, where protesters marched along the bay front.
“Never forget why you started,” read a banner carried by protesters taking part in the march. A little girl with her hair in pigtails led chants reiterating the movement’s demands for direct elections of the city legislature and leadership.
‘This is not over’
As one part of the march ran into a police blockade, officers warned protesters not to proceed, saying they were straying from the permitted route.
An officer sprayed pepper spray towards the protesters who held out umbrellas to protect themselves and hurled abuse at the police.
Earlier, a smaller rally marched peacefully to the US consulate to thank American lawmakers for passing legislation backing the protest movement.
There too, demonstrators said they wanted to press their advantage after the district council vote.
“I would like to send a message to the government: we are not done and this is not over,” said one 27-year-old protester, who declined to give his name.
He said he hoped that Sunday’s demonstrations, all of which received permits called “letters of no objection,” would stay peaceful.
“I do worry that public opinion may change if violence and clashes continue,” he said.
But echoing the views of many activists who defend the violent nature of protests, he said he feared the movement would “simply wither if we adopt a completely peaceful manner.”
Man attacked removing barricade
Among the demonstrators were children, including a 13-year-old who gave only her family name, Leung.
“I believe Hong Kong people will continue to take to the streets, otherwise the government may mistakenly believe that we have let go of our demands,” she told Agence France-Presse.
“I will join as often as I can, even just to make the headcount larger.”
Months into the huge protests kicked off by opposition to a bill allowing extradition to China, pro-democracy demonstrators still appear to command widespread support — with the victory of pro-democracy candidates undercutting government claims of a “silent majority” opposed to the movement.
Ahead of Sunday’s rallies there were calls from organizers for people to remain “highly restrained” with fears of a return to the violence that has marked more recent months in the political crisis.
On Saturday night police fired tear gas for the first time since the election as protesters blocked roads in the Mong Kok neighborhood.
A video from the neighborhood that emerged online also showed a protester brutally assaulting a man as he attempted to clear a barricade.
The commentator mocks the man, who stumbles and then slumps over after being hit across the head with a heavy metal object, blood trickling from a wound.
In a statement, police confirmed the incident: “So far no one has been arrested. The victim suffered a serious head injury and was sent to hospital.”
In a radio interview on Sunday morning, police chief Tang Ping-keung slammed the violence.
“It could have killed him,” Tang said.