HONG KONG: Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong held hands and formed human chains across the city on Tuesday, as they carried their months-long movement and its demands into 2020 with midnight countdown rallies and a massive march planned for New Year’s Day.
The financial hub has been battered by more than six months of unrest that has seen peaceful marches attended by millions, as well as violent confrontations in which police have fired tear gas and rubber bullets — and protesters responding with flurries of petrol bombs.
As the final day of the year drew to a close, police used water cannon to disperse small crowds of protesters gathering in the city’s Mong Kok district, while in nearby Prince Edward neighbourhood officers arrested several protesters staging a candlelight vigil.
Earlier, thousands of people linked arms in human chains that stretched for miles along busy shopping streets and through local neighbourhoods.
They chanted slogans, sang “Glory to Hong Kong” — a symbolic protest anthem — and held up posters calling for people to fight for democracy in 2020.
“Thanks to 2019, which tore off the ugly masks of the police and the government and let the people see the truth,” said protester Kris, a medic who joined Tuesday’s protest.
“The movement is kind of like at its bottleneck now. Hopefully a huge turnout at tomorrow’s march could bring back people’s passion,” he added.
In a New Year’s video message broadcast on state media, Chinese president Xi Jinping said Hong Kong’s recent upheaval was concerning and that the “people of our motherland” expected stability in the restive city.
But protesters have vowed to continue their effort to push for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability.
On Tuesday night, demonstrators also swarmed major shopping malls, which have become regular protest venues in an effort to cause economic disruption.
The city’s traditional New Year Eve’s bumper fireworks display has been cancelled due to safety concerns, but a light show and smaller-scale fireworks will take place instead.
The Civil Human Rights Front, the chief organiser of the city’s record-breaking marches, will kick off the new year with a huge demonstration on Wednesday, urging the government to respond to the five demands of the pro-democracy movement — which include an independent inquiry into the police, amnesty for arrestees and fully free elections.
Police have arrested nearly 6,500 people since June — nearly a third aged under 20.
The demonstrations were initially sparked by a now-abandoned bill to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland, but have since morphed into a popular revolt against Beijing’s control — the biggest crisis since the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule in 1997.
Published in Dawn, January 1st, 2020