Hong Kong protests take to streets for seventh weekend in a row

Associated Press
Anti-extradition bill protesters take part in a rally in Hong Kong, China, 21 July 2019. The organizer of the march, the Civil Human Rights Front, is urging the government to set up an independent commission of inquiry to be led by a judge - REX

Protesters in Hong Kong pressed on Sunday past the designated end point for a march in which tens of thousands repeated demands for direct elections in the Chinese territory and an independent investigation into police tactics used in previous demonstrations.

Around 10,000 people gathered in Admiralty, the district housing the city's government complex, despite orders from police to disperse immediately. Others continued toward Central, a key business and retail district and the site of the 2014 Umbrella Movement sit-ins.

Large protests began last month in opposition to a contentious extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to stand trial in mainland China, where critics say their rights would be compromised.

Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, has declared the bill dead, but protesters are dissatisfied with her refusal to formally withdraw the bill. Some are also calling for her to resign amid growing concerns about the steady erosion of civil rights in city.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters participant in anti-extradition bill march in Hong Kong on July 21, 2019 in Hong Kong Credit: Getty

A former British colony, Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997, and was promised certain democratic freedoms under the framework of "one country, two systems."

Fueled by anger at Lam and an enduring distrust of the Communist Party-ruled central government in Beijing, the demonstrations have ballooned into calls for electoral reform and an investigation into alleged police brutality.

Walking in sweltering heat, protesters dressed in black kicked off Sunday's march from a public park, carrying a large banner that read "Independent Inquiry for Rule of Law."

"Free Hong Kong! Democracy now!" the protesters chanted, forming a dense procession through Hong Kong's Wan Chai district as they were joined by others who had been waiting in side streets.

"I think the government has never responded to our demands," said Karen Yu, a 52-year-old Hong Kong resident who has attended four protests since last month. "No matter how much the government can do, at least it should come out and respond to us directly."

Marchers ignored orders from police to finish off the procession on a road in Wan Chai, according to police and the Civil Human Rights Front, the march's organizers.

Demonstrators walk out onto Harcourt Road during a protest in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong, China, on Sunday, July 21, 2019. Credit: Bloomberg

Protesters repeated the five points of their "manifesto," which was first introduced when a small group of them stormed the legislature earlier this month.

Their main demands include universal suffrage - direct voting rights for all Hong Kong residents - as well as dropping charges against anti-extradition protesters, withdrawing the characterization of a clash between police and protesters as a "riot" and dissolving the Legislative Council.

Protesters read the demands aloud in both English and Cantonese in videos released Saturday.

"We did not want to embark on this path of resisting tyranny with our bare bodies," they said, "but for too long, our government has lied and deceived, and refused to respond to the demands of the people."

A man waves a US and Hong Kong flag while standing on a divider after he and other protesters occupied Harcourt Road while marching against a controversial extradition bill in Hong Kong on July 21, 2019. Credit: afp

While the demonstrations have been largely peaceful, some confrontations between police and protesters have turned violent. In Sha Tin district last Sunday, they beat each other with umbrellas and bats inside a luxury shopping center.

Demonstrators broke into the Legislative Council building on July 1 by moving past barricades and shattering windows. Meanwhile, police officers have used pepper spray, tear gas, bean bag rounds and rubber bullets to quell the crowds.

On Friday, Hong Kong police discovered a stash of a powerful homemade explosive and arrested a man in a raid on a commercial building. Materials voicing opposition to the extradition bill were found at the site, local media said, but a police spokesman said no concrete link had been established and the investigation was continuing.