Hong Kong turned into a sea of slow moving umbrellas on Sunday as the protesters took to streets to restore peace after the movement turned violent with clashes between police and the protesters.
The rally was officially confined to Victoria Park, the city’s biggest public park, but demonstrators defied authorities and turned it into an unlawful march covering different parts of Hong Kong Island not long after it kicked off. By early evening, various districts were thronged with people who spilled out from the park in different directions, marching on major roads, tramways and side streets. According to the organisers nearly 1.7 million people joined the protests.
In recent days this rally has been the focus of attention in Hong Kong, with many expecting a high turn-out amid rumours that people from mainland China had crossed the border to infiltrate the crowds and cause trouble. There were also fears the police could up its ante by deploying water cannon to crack down on protesters.
The city’s embattled police force was the leading subject of criticism at the rally, held under the theme of “Stop gangster violence, curb police chaos.”
The recent wave of anti-government protests, sparked by a controversial extradition bill, have prompted widespread criticism of the police for their alleged brutality against protesters.
Speaking to the crowd at the event, Wong Yik-mo, vice convenor of the Civil Human Rights Front that organised the rally, mentioned how pro-democracy activists had been smeared by a law enforcement force that is supposed to be politically neutral. “The Junior Police Officers’ Association and some pro-Beijing legislative councillor have repeatedly called protesters ecockroaches.’ It brings up the painful memories of genocide [for] both Hongkongers and the international community,” said Wong.
During the 1994 Rwandan genocide about one million Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in three months. The most radical Hutus had called the Tutsis “cockroaches.” Earlier the Hong Kong government issued a statement expressing “regret” that the Civil Human Rights Front targeted police as the slogan of the rally.
The Civil Human Rights Front was behind two high-profile demonstrations in June that drew millions of Hong Kongers to protest against a controversial extradition bill. Shortly after the demonstrations, the government announced the bill’s suspension. Rallies organised by the front often attract huge turnouts, partly because the group is affiliated with almost all pan-democratic camps in Hong Kong and can therefore pull a crowd of peace-loving as well as more radical protesters.
The government of Hong Kong in its official statement said, “The spokesman reiterated that it was most important to restore social order as soon as possible. The Government will begin sincere dialogue with the public, mend social rifts and rebuild social harmony when everything has calmed down.”
Entering its eleventh consecutive week, Hong Kong protests saw a series of violent episodes which also affected city’s airport and economy. With sit-ins at the airport and protesters blocking many roads nearly 1000 flights were cancelled causing inconvenience to many tourists. The pro-democracy movement also seems to affect the economy with many businesses taking a hit, Hong Kong’s GDP compared with the first quarter also shrank by 0.3% according to CNN.
The demonstrations were triggered by a controversial bill which would have allowed extraditions to mainland China, but have evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms.