Hong Kong protesters form human chains to call for democracy

HONG KONG (AP) — Supporters of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement lined the streets and part of the city's harbor front Friday, inspired by a human chain in a historic Baltic states protest against Soviet control 30 years ago.

Some raised linked hands while others switched on their smartphone lights and held the devices aloft to create a row of white lights against the nighttime skyline. Organizers hoped the chains, which traced three subway routes, would total 40 kilometers (25 miles) in length.

It was the latest protest in a nearly 11-week-old movement that began with calls to scrap a now-suspended extradition bill and has widened to include demands for full democracy and an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality at protests.

"It actually enraged me, the way that the government, the (city's) chief executive and then the police, how they carry out their jobs," said Michael Ng, who works in finance and joined the chain outside an upscale mall. "Very brutal, I would say. We are talking about human rights here."

Police say their use of tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bag rounds has been necessary to clear streets of protesters who have pelted them with eggs, bricks and gasoline bombs.

In a protest dubbed "The Baltic Way," nearly 2 million Latvians, Lithuanians and Estonians formed a human chain more than 600 kilometers (370 miles) long on Aug. 23, 1989.

Organizers of "The Hong Kong Way" said it was a show of solidarity against the extradition law and police violence, as well as a plea for international support.

Earlier Friday, accountants marched in support of the pro-democracy movement, while the Canadian Consulate banned its staff from leaving the city on official business after a British Consulate employee was detained in mainland China.

A major trade union confederation said that the head of the cabin crew union at Cathay Dragon airline had been fired in retaliation for supporting the movement, adding to the chill in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

The Canadian Consulate didn't say whether the travel restriction for local staff was related to the detention of the British Consulate employee, Simon Cheng Man-kit. He went missing two weeks ago after going on a business trip to Shenzhen, a mainland city just across the border.

"At present, locally engaged staff will not undertake official business travel outside of Hong Kong," the Canadian Consulate said in a statement.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China respects Canada's decision, but countered it with a Confucius quote: "A gentleman is open and poised; a petty man is unhappy and worried."

Geng elaborated that those who are "above board" will have their rights guaranteed in China, while people with "an ulterior motive to engage in illegal activities" may have to be "extremely cautious."

The U.K.'s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said it is urgently seeking further information about Cheng, who has worked for the consulate since December 2017 as an international trade and investment officer for the Scottish government.

"Neither we nor Simon's family have been able to speak to him since detention," the office said. "That is our priority and we continue to raise Simon's case repeatedly in China, Hong Kong and London and have sought to make contact with Simon himself."

Geng said that Cheng's case is a police matter and not a diplomatic issue.

China said this week that Cheng had been placed in administrative detention for 15 days for violating public order regulations. The Global Times, a Communist Party-owned tabloid newspaper, reported that Chen had been detained for soliciting prostitutes.

China often uses public order charges against political targets and has sometimes used the charge of soliciting prostitution. Ou Shaokun, an anti-corruption activist, alleged in 2015 that he was framed by authorities in southern Hunan province who said they found him in a hotel room with a prostitute.

The accountants march drew a few thousand participants who gathered in a city square before heading to government headquarters. They were the latest profession to back the movement publicly following rallies by lawyers, teachers and medical workers.

One participant, Sarah Wong, said accountants are usually quiet because they are focused on getting the numbers right, but they cannot remain silent anymore.

Kenneth Leung, a lawmaker who represents the accounting industry, said that the extradition bill would have affected accountants, because many of them have clients in mainland China and travel there. The legislation would have allowed suspects to be extradited to the mainland to face trial.

"The profession as a whole needs to come out to express their concerns and grievances," he said.

Rebecca Sy, the Cathay Dragon union head, told a news conference that the Hong Kong airline had dismissed her without giving a reason, but that the firing came after she was pulled from a flight and asked by an airline representative to confirm that screenshots from Facebook were from her account.

"It's not just about the termination of the job, it's also the whole issue, it's terrifying. All my colleagues are all terrified," she said. "I feel so sorry for them because I'm no longer in that position to protect them."

Cathay Dragon is owned by Hong Kong's main carrier, Cathay Pacific, which has come under pressure from Chinese authorities for employing people who support the protests. The company said in a statement that Sy's departure has nothing to do with her union activities.

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions called her firing a "blatant suppression and retaliation on her participation in the anti-extradition bill movement and her actions to mobilize her colleagues to participate as a trade union leader."

The Canadian government updated its travel advice for China to warn of stepped-up border checks on smartphones, following reports that Chinese immigration officers were looking for protest-related photos.


Associated Press video journalist Johnson Lai in Hong Kong and writer Yanan Wang in Beijing contributed to this report.