Hong Kong protesters rally to show ‘peaceful’ credentials after chaos

Vastavam web: Tens of thousands of Hong Kong democracy activists gathered Sunday for a major rally to show the city’s leaders their protest movement still attracts wide public support despite mounting violence and increasingly stark warnings from Beijing. Ten weeks of demonstrations have plunged the financial hub into crisis with images of masked black-clad protesters engulfed by tear gas during street battles with riot police stunning a city once renowned for its stability.

Communist-ruled mainland China has taken an increasingly hardline tone towards the protesters, decrying the “terrorist-like” actions of a violent hardcore minority among the demonstrators. Despite the near-nightly clashes with police, the movement has won few concessions from Beijing or the city’s unelected leadership.

The images damaged a campaign that until then had largely targeted the police or government institutions, and prompted an apology from some of the protest groups. Sunday’s rally at the city’s Victoria Park is an attempt to wrestle the narrative of the protest back. It is a “rational, non-violent” demonstration, according to organisers the Civil Human Rights Front, the driving force behind record-breaking rallies in June and July that saw hundreds of thousands of people hit the streets.

Police have given permission for the rally to go ahead but banned a proposed march. Previous bans on marches have been ignored by protesters, leading to clashes with riot police. State media also ran images of military personnel and armoured personnel carriers across the border in Shenzhen, prompting the United States to warn Beijing against sending in troops.

Analysts say any intervention by Chinese security forces would be a reputational and economic disaster for China. During smaller protest marches on Saturday which ended without large-scale clashes – many protesters chanted “See you in Victoria Park!” as they left the streets. Tens of thousands of protesters massed in the park as the rally started on Sunday afternoon, while many others thronged the nearby streets in a show of defiance expected to stretch into the evening.

“I hope more people can make a step forward,” protester Ray Cheung, 30, told AFP. “We have tried many times with peaceful approaches… I really hope the government can listen to us.” The unprecedented political crisis was sparked by opposition to a plan to allow extraditions to the mainland.

State media also ran images of military personnel and armoured personnel carriers across the border in Shenzhen, prompting the United States to warn Beijing against sending in troops. Analysts say any intervention by Chinese security forces would be a reputational and economic disaster for China. During smaller protest marches on Saturday — which ended without large-scale clashes – many protesters chanted “See you in Victoria Park!” as they left the streets.

Tens of thousands of protesters massed in the park as the rally started on Sunday afternoon, while many others thronged the nearby streets in a show of defiance expected to stretch into the evening. “I hope more people can make a step forward,” protester Ray Cheung, 30, told AFP.

“We have tried many times with peaceful approaches… I really hope the government can listen to us.” The unprecedented political crisis was sparked by opposition to a plan to allow extraditions to the mainland.