Hong Kong readies for more mass protests after huge rally
HONG KONG- Reuters
Hong Kong is gearing up for more protests this week after hundreds of thousands of anti-government demonstrators braved heavy rain to rally peacefully on Aug. 18, marking a change to what have often been violent clashes.
Sunday's turnout of an estimated 1.7 million people, according to the rally's organizers, showed that the movement still has widespread support despite chaotic scenes last week when protesters occupied the Chinese-ruled city's airport. Some activists have apologized for events at the airport.
The protests began more than 11 weeks ago as opposition to a now-suspended bill that would have allowed suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts and have since swelled into wider calls for democracy.
Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that promised wide-ranging freedoms denied to citizens in mainland China, but many in the city believe Beijing has been eroding those freedoms.
The protests have presented one of the biggest challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.
Further demonstrations are planned in coming weeks, including another strike in districts across the city.
Police said on Monday that, while Sunday's demonstration was mostly peaceful, acts of breaching public peace happened later when some protesters damaged government offices and aimed laser beams at police officers.
Protesters spilled out from Victoria Park, the designated rally area on Hong Kong island, on Sunday and streamed onto major thoroughfares towards the city's financial center, chanting for Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam to step down.
However, the demonstrators dispersed and went home later on Sunday in a break from other recent protests that were marred by violent clashes with police.
The government said in a statement on Sunday night it was important to restore social order as soon as possible and that it would begin talks with the public and "rebuild social harmony when everything has calmed down".
Police have come under criticism for using increasingly aggressive tactics to break up demonstrations, but there was a minimal police presence on Sunday and no arrests were made.
More than 700 people have been arrested since the protests began in June.