Hong Kong’s streets turned into rivers of umbrellas as hundreds of thousands of people marched through heavy rain down in a renewed show of strength in the Chinese territory.
Organisers say at least 1.7 million participated but police downplayed the numbers to 128,000.
It was the largest protest since the initial June 19 gathering which organisers estimated drew more than 2 million people.
The assembly was peaceful, with no reports of violence, making for a rare calm weekend in 11 weeks of protests that have been marked by violent clashes with police.
Incredible. Within an hour, Hong Kong’s latest anti-government rally has spilled from its designated location of Victoria Park, which is already at near capacity. The overpass packed with protesters too. @SBSNews #hongkong pic.twitter.com/AKw9axtlyh
— Omar Dabbagh (@Omar_Dabbagh) August 18, 2019
Law enforcement officers kept a low profile on Sunday, with no riot police seen from the procession’s main routes. When stragglers convened outside a government complex in the late evening, other protesters urged them to go home.
“We hope that there will not be any chaotic situations today,” organiser Bonnie Leung said earlier in the day. “We hope we can show the world that Hong Kong people can be totally peaceful.”
Her group, the Civil Human Rights Front, had organised three previous massive marches in Hong Kong since June but the movement has been increasingly marked by clashes with police as demonstrators vent their frustrations over what they perceive to be the government’s refusal to respond to their demands.
Police granted approval for the rally but did not approve an accompanying march. Demonstrators nevertheless fanned out and filled the streets as there was not enough space at the designated assembly area.
Trains did not stop at stations near the assembly because of overcrowding.
Jimmy Shan of the Civil Human Rights Front said the group estimated that at least 1.7 million took part in the rally. He said the figure did not include those who were not able to make it to Victoria Park, where the march began, because of traffic constraints.
Police estimated the turnout during the designated time period and location to be 128,000. Many protesters, however, did not follow pre-approved guidelines laid out by the authorities.
In Beijing, You Wenze, a spokesman for China’s ceremonial legislature, condemned statements from US legislators supportive of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.
He called the comments “a gross violation of the spirit of the rule of law, a blatant double standard and a gross interference in China’s internal affairs”.
He said Hong Kong’s 7.5 million people and the Chinese population rejected the actions of a “very small group of violent protesters” as well as “any interference of foreign forces”.
The US Congress has the power to pass legislation affecting Hong Kong’s relationship with the US in ways that could further erode the territory’s reputation for stability and rule of law.
That includes the recent reintroduction of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which would require the secretary of state to issue an annual certification of Hong Kong’s autonomy to justify special treatment.
More directly, President Donald Trump could issue an executive order suspending Hong Kong’s special trading status with the US, which could have a devastating effect on the local economy at a time when Beijing and Washington are engaged in a bitter trade war.
A former British colony, Hong Kong was returned to Beijing in 1997 under the framework of “one country, two systems”, which promised residents certain democratic rights not afforded to people in mainland China, but some Hong Kongers have accused the Communist Party-ruled central government of eroding their freedoms in recent years.
The protest movement’s demands include the resignation of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, democratic elections and an independent investigation into police use of force.
Members of China’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police force have been training for days across the border in Shenzhen, including on Sunday morning, fuelling speculation that they could be sent in to suppress the protests.