Thousands of Hong Kong people took to the streets on Saturday for a series of wild protests as police closed and closed the main streets around the Chinese government offices in the city.
This thirteenth consecutive weekend of protest follows a week of escalation, which includes a sudden wave of arrests on Friday of leaders and legislators for democracy, including youth leaders Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow.
Originally a mass demonstration in favor of democracy had been planned for Saturday, but it was canceled after the organizers failed to obtain police authorization. Scattered incidents during the week also raised concerns about a possible violent escalation, after a prominent protest organizer was attacked in a restaurant by masked men wearing baseball bats and knives, and an off duty police officer was attacked on the street. by three men with a knife.
The Wildcat protests that take place on Saturday instead of the demonstration include a Christian prayer march in the city center, a “shopping” protest in the busy Causeway Bay district, and they plan to create a “sea of candles” throughout the city on Saturday night. Police described the crowds in the Wan Chai area, where the Christian march was heading, as an “unauthorized assembly.”
The streets around the Liaison Office of the Central Popular Government, China’s de facto embassy in the city, were heavily blocked from Saturday morning, with a large police presence.
The week has seen growing speculation about Beijing’s strategy towards protesters. On Friday, Reuters reported that China had overturned a proposal by Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam to completely withdraw the controversial extradition bill that caused protests this summer. Lam has refused to rule out the invocation of emergency powers.
China recently sent new troops to the city, in what it described as a routine rotation in the garrisons established in the city. Beijing has stationed troops in Hong Kong since it assumed sovereignty over the city in 1997.
On Friday, however, a US official told CNN that Washington had no indication that any troops had left the city, suggesting that the deployment of the week may have increased the Hong Kong garrison by thousands. CNN has contacted the authorities of Hong Kong and China for comments.
Also on Friday, the president of the United States, Donald Trump, attributed his business talks with China for “keeping the temperature low” in Hong Kong. “I think if it weren’t for the business talks, Hong Kong would be in much bigger trouble. I think it would have been much more violent,” he said. A new round of tariffs will enter into force on Sunday.
In discussing the protests, Trump said: “Look, we all want freedom. We all want freedom.”
“I think we’re going to worry a lot, really … I think we’re going to learn a lot in the next two or three days. And I hope it is handled in a very human way.” he added.
On Saturday morning, Hong Kong’s transport systems seemed prepared for clashes. The city’s subway system closed a station near the China Liaison Office, which represents the continental government, and several sections of the road on Hong Kong Island were closed to traffic.
The online organization platform LIHKG also said Saturday morning that its server had received an unprecedented distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack that, it said, was designed to disconnect it. Another key platform, the Telegram encrypted messaging application, previously said it was targeted by DDoS attacks, which was linked to the protests.
Almost three months of protests
Hong Kong has been protesting for almost three months, and some demonstrations attracted estimated crowds of over a million.
Protests began in June, caused by a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong to send suspected criminals to mainland China, where the legal system has a 99% conviction rate. The bill was filed, although not fully withdrawn. Meanwhile, protesters’ demands have expanded to include calls for their total withdrawal, universal suffrage and an independent investigation into police brutality.
Last weekend’s protests were the most violent of the summer, with some protesters armed with metal poles and gasoline pumps. Police fired tear gas, water cannons and, in one case, fired a gun into the air. It was the first time that water cannons were used in these protests.
Police have not disclosed the names of all activists arrested in the raid this week. However, they announced that, in addition to Wong and Chow, police also arrested Rick Hui, an open politician in favor of democracy, and Andy Chan, founder of the illegal National Party of Hong Kong.
Among other charges, Wong and Chow, both 22, were accused of “inciting others to participate in an illegal assembly,” which carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison if convicted. They have been released on bail.
Chow described the arrests as an attempt to repress participation in protests. “We can clearly see that the regime and the Hong Kong government are trying to create a White Terror to try to scare the people of Hong Kong from participating in the social and democratic movement of the future,” he told reporters outside on Friday. of the court.
Until Saturday, however, there were no signs that Hong Kong protesters had been afraid of the streets.