Hundreds of uniformed school students, many wearing masks, formed human chains in districts across Hong Kong on Monday in support of anti-government protesters after another weekend of clashes in the Chinese-ruled city.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong is an inseparable part of China and any form of secessionism ‘will be crushed’, state media said on Monday, a day after demonstrators rallied at the US consulate to ask for help in bringing democracy to city.
The China Daily newspaper said Sunday’s rally in Hong Kong was proof that foreign forces were behind the protests, which began in mid-June, and warned that demonstrators should ‘stop trying the patience of the central government’.
Chinese officials have accused foreign forces of trying to hurt Beijing by creating chaos in Hong Kong over a hugely unpopular extradition bill that would have allowed suspects to be tried in Communist Party-controlled courts.
Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 under a ‘one country, two systems’ formula that guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland. Many Hong Kong residents fear Beijing is eroding that autonomy.
Early on Monday, before school started, rows of students and alumni joined hands chanting ‘Hong Kong people, add oil’, a phrase that has become a rallying cry for the protest movement.
‘The school-based human chain is the strongest showcase of how this protest is deep rooted in society, so deep rooted that it enters through the school students,’ said Alan Leong, an alumnus of Wah Yan College in the city’s Kowloon district.
Three months of protests over a now withdrawn extradition bill have evolved into a broader backlash against the government and greater calls for democracy.
Police said they had arrested 157 people over the previous three days, including 125 males and 32 females aged 14 to 63, bringing the total number of arrests to more than 1,300.
The former British colony is facing its first recession in a decade as the protests scare off tourists and bite into retail sales in one of the world’s most popular shopping destinations.
Tourist arrivals plunged 40 per cent in August year on year, said Paul Chan, the city’s finance secretary, with sustained clashes blocking roads and paralysing parts of the city. Disruptions at the city’s international had also hit the tourism industry.
‘The most worrying thing is that the road ahead is not easily going to turn any better,’ Chan said in his blog on Sunday, noting that some hotels had seen room rates plunge up to 70 per cent.
Activists started fires in the street and vandalised a Mass Transit Railway station in the main business district of Central on Sunday after thousands rallied peacefully at the US consulate, calling for help in bringing democracy to the special administrative region.
The students, brandishing posters with the protesters’ five demands for the government, called on authorities to respond to the promises of freedom, human rights and rule of law, promised when Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997.
One of the five demands — to formally withdraw the extradition bill — was announced last week by embattled leader Carrie Lam, but protesters are angry about her failure to call an independent inquiry into accusations of police brutality against demonstrators.
UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet urged people to protest peacefully and called on authorities to respond to any acts of violence with restraint.
The protesters’ other demands include the retraction of the word ‘riot’ to describe demonstrations, the release of all those arrested and the right for Hong Kong people to choose their own leaders.
A journalist wearing a hard hat and protective goggles at a police briefing condemned the use by police of pepper spray against media over the weekend.
In a rare public appearance, Lam walked around the central business district with the city’s transport and housing secretary Frank Chan and MTR officials to inspect the damaged station, where she chatted with staff and commuters.
Dressed in a black suit, she examined electronic ticketing machines and boarded up windows smashed the previous day, according to footage by public broadcaster RTHK.
Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong was released from police custody after breaching bail conditions following his arrest in August when he was charged along with a number of other prominent activists for inciting and participating in an unauthorised assembly.
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