Hong Kong has been left reeling from 10 weeks of protests Photo: AFP

Rival rallies as Hong Kong's divisions deepen

By Jerome Taylor, Yan Zhao and Elaine Yu

Hong Kong democracy activists kicked off a weekend of fresh rallies on Saturday in a major test for the movement following criticism over an airport protest earlier this week -- and as concerns mount over Beijing's next move.

The new marches came as thousands of pro-government supporters -- many waving Chinese flags -- gathered in a park to condemn their opponents and support the police, a stark illustration of the polarisation now coursing through the city.

Ten weeks of demonstrations have plunged the international finance hub into crisis, with communist-ruled mainland China taking an increasingly hardline tone, including labeling the more violent protester actions "terrorist-like".

Democracy activists are billing the weekend rallies as a way to show Beijing and the city's unelected leaders that their movement still enjoys broad public support, despite increasingly violent tactics deployed by a minority of hardcore protesters that have cast a shadow.

On Tuesday, protesters blocked passengers from boarding flights at the city's airport and later assaulted two men they accused of being Chinese spies.

The images damaged a movement that until then had largely only targeted the police or government institutions, and prompted some soul-searching among protesters.

China's propaganda apparatus seized on the violence, with state media churning out a deluge of damning articles, pictures and videos.

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, which analysts say would be a reputational and economic disaster for China.

Saturday's rallies began with thousands of teachers marching through torrential rain in support of the largely youth-led protests.

In the afternoon thousands also marched through Hung Hom and To Kwa Wan, two harborside districts popular with mainland tourists.

Some protesters targeted the local offices of the staunchly pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions, pelting it with eggs and spraying graffiti.

"The government has yet to respond to a single demand and has escalated force through the police to suppress the people's voices," a 25-year-old protester, who gave his first name Mars, told AFP.

"If we don't come out, our future, our next generation will face even more suppression," he added.

But across the harbor at the pro-Beijing rally, where a giant screen showed recent clashes with police, 60-year-old retiree Irene Man had a very different take as she rounded on democracy protesters.

"Their acts are not human, they have all become monsters. They are rioters, with no reason, no thinking," she said.

The biggest pro-democracy rally is expected to take place on Sunday on the main island.

Billed as a "rational, non-violent" protest, it is being organised by the Civil Human Rights Front, a group that eschews confrontations with police and was the driving force behind record-breaking rallies in June and July that saw hundreds of thousands of people hit the streets.

The protests were sparked by opposition to a plan to allow extraditions to the mainland, but have since morphed into a wider call for democratic rights in the semi-autonomous city.

Millions of people have hit the streets while clashes have broken out between police and small groups of hardcore protesters.

Battles between police firing tear gas and rubber bullets -- and hardcore protesters using rocks, Molotov cocktails and slingshots -- have since become routine in an international finance hub once renowned for stability.

Beyond suspending the extradition bill, Beijing and city leader Carrie Lam have shown no desire to meet key demands such as an inquiry into police violence, the complete withdrawal of the bill and an amnesty.

But protesters remain unbowed, despite the arrests of more than 700 people and 11 consecutive weekends of rallies that have won few concessions.

Beijing has turned the screws on Hong Kong's businesses, pressuring them to toe the line and condemn the protesters.

On Friday, Cathay Pacific announced the shock resignation of CEO Rupert Hogg after the carrier was excoriated by Beijing because some staff supported the pro-democracy protests.

On Saturday, the "Big Four" accountancy firms scrambled to distance themselves from a advert placed in a newspaper purportedly by employees saying they supported the protests.

Deloitte and PwC posted statements on their websites saying the ad does not represent their positions and expressing opposition to violent or illegal behavior.

In statements quoted by Chinese state news agency Xinhua, KPMG and EY also expressed opposition to violence and illegal acts.

© 2019 AFP

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

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I found this quote from a pro Beijing protester to be interesting;

"Their acts are not human, they have all become monsters. They are rioters, with no reason, no thinking," she said.

The Hong Kong freedom protesters do not look like monsters and they do have a reason for the protest (whether you agree with them or not).

In the end Hong Kong will belong to China (it does now). I empathize with the HK protesters. I would not want to live in a place where the CCP controls what I can access (news I can read, etc.).

I believe what is happening in HK is an insight into the future of the World.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

Let the colonizers keep their democracy to their own people, let China keep prosperity.

-9 ( +0 / -9 )

When a non-violent movement turns radical, it indicates infiltration or hijacking by extremists. Such disruptions may be masterminded by competing interests or the opposition to undermine the movement.

The alt-right and antifa both use such tactics.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Let the colonizers keep their democracy to their own people, let China keep prosperity.

And in your opinion, should we remain silent about the Chinese governments abhorrent record on human rights, and its continuing to ignore the human rights of its citizens?

6 ( +6 / -0 )

This is a major headache for the regime in Peking, but a) I do not believe that the HK protests are able to spread to the mainland, and b) the Peking regime can no allow this to fester for a long time, so I expect in a couple of weeks or so they will clamp down violently, much as they hate the bad publicity.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

e: "Their acts are not human, they have all become monsters. They are rioters, with no reason, no thinking," she said.

In researching this fairly on both sides, seems the police are excessive in the use of force, sort of like a bow n arrow vs armored high tech...hmmm and each event its the police who fire first. The group is only doing what is humanly right and defend themselves and others. The "no reason" of this comment doesn't make sense as the group has stated the entire reason as to why they are protesting in the first place else there would be no protesting, and as for thinking you can't have protesting without a reason and clearly lots of thinking behind if it has gone this far. China's restraint is only a farce and they have no intention to change anything else they would be coming to terms and trying to use the dialogue approach simply honor the agreement they committed too during the turnover. It's that simple.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The powerful Hong Kong protest movement is part of the ongoing overture to the unstable 21st century when the clash between rulers and the ruled over the exercise of freedom, the existence of human rights and the dignity of the individual will be fought out. Beijing is predictably playing with the rotten carrot of propaganda and brain-massaging before it takes out its big stick to beat the people of Hong Kong into submission. But the lesson autocrats never learn is that once the genie has escaped from the bottle, violence and terror will not work.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

This sounds ominous. While “silent majorities” exist, by definition they don’t get out in the streets.

A possible exception was the participation of 1 million Hong Kongers in an earlier march against the proposed extradition law. If one asks why it hasn’t been repeated there may be a variety of reasons including, but not limited to, harassment by triad gangs, activities of agents provocateurs and a desire to disassociate with violence. It seems that the Hong Kong silent majority have returned to character. I don’t blame them.

The “across the harbor” protests, in contrast, though purportedly a reflection of the same “silent majority” bear the hallmarks of old-fashioned “spontaneous outpourings of support for the government”, i.e. counter demonstrations organized and orchestrated by the CP of the PRC. To be fair, many participants may just want a return to normalcy and punishment of the “intelligentsia” they may hold responsible for the troubles.

These protests it should be noted are much more accessible from Shenzhen where military units are awaiting orders. I can well imagine the triumphal entry of these units through flower-strewn streets and past deliriously cheering crowds welcoming their saviors.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Strangerland, what human rights ?

Exactly. They barely exist in China.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

The liberal state exists to set the conditions of freedom in society, to stand above the fair fight. But all party systems exist to extend the power of their people -- to be their fighter. When "their people" are a diffuse electorate, this is relatively benign and subject to the (hopefully liberal) ideology of the party. But when the powerful few shift the party's focus to a few patrons with the means to win elections and the commitment to select those who put their interests first, this dynamic becomes caustic.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Their acts are not human, they have all become monsters.

This is not going to end well. Dehumanizing the opponents. History has too many examples of what happens next.

Im not sure shutting down the airport was the best strategy. It plays right into the hands of the Chinese propanga machine being ramped up and moving into the next phase. We all feel for you Hong Kong but be smart. There is no moral compass for the CCP who see this disobedience as a dire threat to not only its precious image but its very existence. Its either win or loose, by all means necessary.

Surely there are cooler heads on both sides that want to and could negotiate. Find a middle ground and gain at least some of the protesters demands. We need some pragmatism pronto.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Protesters may have a just cause, but China is not going to give into the demands. Sacraficing HK comes before letting you roam free. So I ask you, where does that leave the economic prospects of hk? It's no wonder people from the other side has popped up suddenly, not that I blame them.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

China may be a relatively benign dictatorship, but only when compared to places like North Korea.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

 It's no wonder people from the other side has popped up suddenly, not that I blame them.

Those people 'from the other side' are CCP stooges planted in. That's how totalitarian regimes quash opposition. Remember O'Brian from '1984'.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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