Police rushed to use tear gas, batons and pepper spray against pro-democracy protesters in central Hong Kong yesterday, as thousands joined a civil-disobedience movement seeking unfettered elections of the city’s mayor.
The demonstrations, which initially were supposed to take place at the Central district, went on Monday morning and spread to various neighborhoods, including across the iconic harbor in Kowloon. Tear gas even billowed into the city’s famously efficient subway system.
Pro-democracy demonstrators chanted slogans and sang songs of legendary 1980s Hong Kong rock band Beyond. Many were apparently drawn onto the street after becoming incensed that the police had fired tear gas at the crowds. Some 78 people were arrested, police reported.
“This protest is definitely outside of anyone’s expectations,” says Maya Wang, a researcher for Human Rights Watch based in Hong Kong. “Both the government in Hong Kong and in Beijing are going to have a huge headache on their hands.”
“If today I don’t stand out, I will hate myself in future,” said taxi driver Edward Yeung, 55, standing on the frontline. “Even if I get a criminal record it will be a glorious one.”
By the way, police had not used tear gas in the city since breaking up protests by South Korean farmers against the World Trade Organization nine years ago.
“We will fight until the end … we will never give up,” promised Peter Poon, protester who is about 20 years old, adding that they may have to make a temporary retreat through the night.
Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule under a law known also as “one country, two systems” that provided a significant degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China. Universal suffrage was set as an eventual goal.
However, last month Beijing rejected demands for people to freely choose the person who would take the city’s main post, triggering threats from activists to shut down the Central business district. China wants to limit elections to a handful of candidates loyal to Beijing.
“In a move certain to unnerve authorities in Beijing, media in Taiwan reported that student movement leaders had occupied the lobby of Hong Kong’s representative office on the island in a show of support for the democracy protesters,” The Huffington Post writes.
Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying had earlier pledged “resolute” action against the protest movement, known as Occupy Central with Love and Peace.
“The police are determined to handle the situation appropriately in accordance with the law,” Leung said, less than two hours before the police charge began.
Publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai, who is also a key backer of the democracy movement, revealed that he wanted as big a crowd of protesters as possible, after a week of student demonstrations, to thwart any crackdown.
“The more Hong Kong citizens come, the more unlikely the police can clear up the place,” said Lai, also wearing a plastic cape and workmen’s protective glasses. “Even if we get beaten up, we cannot fight back. We will win this war with love and peace.”