Hong Kong protesters reject leader's concession with new rallies
HONG KONG – Thousands of Hong Kongers held rallies on Friday night, September 6, rejecting calls by the city's pro-Beijing leader to end their movement as the finance hub braces for another weekend of clashes, including a plan to disrupt the airport.
Police fired brief volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets against a few hundred protesters who had gathered outside a police station in Mongkok district.
But a second, much larger rally in the heart of the city's commercial district remained peaceful.
Millions of pro-democracy supporters have taken to Hong Kong's streets for the past 3 months in the biggest challenge to China's rule since the city's handover from Britain in 1997.
On Wednesday, September 4, the city's unelected pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam surprised many by announcing she was scrapping a hugely unpopular extradition law that sparked the huge and sometimes violent rallies, a key demand of protesters that she and Beijing had previously refused to budge on.
She portrayed the move as a bid to de-escalate tensions and start a dialogue.
But it has been widely dismissed by protesters as a hollow gesture after more than 1,100 arrests and many facing lengthy jail sentences.
At the peaceful rally on Friday night in the city's commercial district, many protesters said they planned to continue hitting the streets.
"It's too late now, in these 3 months, a lot of people have sacrificed themselves and been arrested," a retiree who gave his surname Cheng told Agence France-Presse, bursting into tears as he spoke.
A 26-year-old protester called Justin who works in the business said the withdrawal of the bill was "3 months late."
"I think the most crucial thing now is the excessive use of police force and there are no legitimate measures to deal with it," he said.
Protesters have said their movement will only end when other key demands are met such as an amnesty for those arrested, an inquiry into the police and universal suffrage, all of which Lam and Beijing have rejected.
Online messaging forums used by the largely leaderless movement have called for protesters to "stress test" the airport on Saturday afternoon, September 7, filling up with suggestions for how to disrupt the road and rail links leading to the terminals.
Last month hundreds of flights were cancelled over two days when huge crowds of protesters staged a sit-in at the airport, with ugly scenes as two men suspected of being Chinese spies were beaten.
Since then security has been ramped up around the sprawling hub – which lies on an artificial island west of the main city – and access to the terminals has been restricted to those with boarding passes.
But last Sunday, September 1, protesters returned to the airport and showed they could still wreak havoc.
Operators of the Airport Express train suspended services after the station was besieged, while black-clad protesters built barricades at the bus terminus and attempted to stop traffic on the main road leading to the facility.
Stranded travelers were forced to abandon their lifts and drag their luggage along the airport road.
While the protests were ignited by the extradition law, they soon morphed into a wider movement calling for democratic reform and police accountability.
Hong Kong enjoys freedoms unseen on the Chinese mainland under the "one country, two systems" principle following the handover from Britain in 1997.
But many say those rights are being eroded by an increasingly authoritarian Beijing which has refused calls for Hong Kongers to directly elect their leaders. – Rappler.com