Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters plan to rebuild “Lennon Walls” of anti-government graffiti as they mark the fifth anniversary of the “Umbrella” street movement that gridlocked the Chinese-ruled city for weeks.
A series of pro- and anti-Beijing protests is planned ahead of the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China on Tuesday, including at the consulate of former colonial power Britain.
While mass demonstrations have been mostly peaceful, violence often erupts after as demonstrators face off with heavily armed police in riot gear.
Protesters have attacked the legislature, Beijing’s main Liaison Office, occupied the airport, brought the city’s metro system to a halt and set street fires in more than three months of unrest.
Police have responded with tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets, occasional live rounds fired into the air and savage attacks, including a brutal and bloody assault on families attempting to leave a protest by train.
Both sides blame the other for the violence, with protesters accusing Bejing of importing thugs from the mainland and recruiting bruisers associated with Hong Kong’s criminal triad gangs.
Police have responded with tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets, occasional live rounds fired into the air and savage attacks .
“They are not our children,” China supporter Yau Mei-kwang said of the frontline activists.
“Because at this age, they should be studying, not running to the airport, hitting people, hitting the police, insulting people. That is not right.”
A pro-democracy protester who only gave his name as Wong defended the use of violence.
“We know that they will not listen if we rally in peace because we are not on the same level,” he said.
The anti-government protesters are angry about creeping Chinese interference in Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula intended to guarantee freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.
China vehemently denies meddling. It has accused foreign governments, including the United States and Britain, of fanning the unrest.
Protesters appealed to the British two weeks ago to rein in China and ensure it respects the city’s freedoms.
Britain says it has a legal responsibility to ensure China abides by the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which lays out the “one country, two systems” arrangement.
At the same time, it is pinning its hopes on closer trade and investment cooperation with China, which since 1997 has risen to become the world’s second-largest economy, after it leaves the European Union at the end of October.
The protests were sparked in June by planned legislation, since withdrawn, that would have allowed the extradition of suspected criminals to mainland China. But they have since expanded into a broader pro-democracy movement.
Saturday is the fifth anniversary of the start of the “Umbrella” protests, student-led demonstrations that gridlocked the city for 79 days in 2014 calling for universal suffrage that failed to wrest concessions from Beijing. Thousands of people are expected to rally in the city centre in the evening.
One of the leaders of those protests, the bespectacled Joshua Wong, 22, said on Saturday he will run for local district council elections in November.
“I will join the protest assembly tonight, during this weekend and also during 1st October,” he told reporters.
“It’s time to let Emperor Xi (Chinese President Xi Jinping) be aware that now is our battle… We stand in solidarity, we stand as one.”