Thousands challenge the police in the last march of Hong Kong
HONG KONG: Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong on Saturday, challenging the police with an unauthorized march since the democratic movement shows no signs of diminishing after almost five months.
Crowds of protesters dressed in black, many with facial masks despite a recent ban, filled a popular commercial district, as tensions grew with the riot police that had flooded the area.
The march came a day after China warned that it would not tolerate any challenge to the Hong Kong government system and planned to boost patriotic education in the city, which has seen 22 consecutive weekends of youth-led protests.
Hong Kong has been upset by the huge, often violent, protests in favor of democracy that have damaged the reputation of the financial center's stability and helped sink the city into a recession.
Beijing has not shown a willingness to meet the demands of protesters of greater democratic freedoms and police responsibility, and activists show no signs of leaving the streets as violence increases on both sides.
The government and the police have been ignoring and suppressing people's demands, so we must continue the movement to show them that we still want what we are asking for, said protester Gordon Tsoi, 18, who was not wearing a mask. He told AFP as he marched.
The entire government is being controlled by the central government now, so we have to leave to protect the freedoms we deserve, added another 17-year-old protester who refused to give his name.
Police gave permission for a night demonstration in the city's commercial district, but rejected a request to march through the streets in the afternoon, citing security fears due to the months of fighting.
As has happened so often in the past, protesters simply defied the ban and began to concentrate in large numbers despite the risk of arrest and imprisonment for participating in an illegal assembly.
Joshua Wong, one of the most prominent activists in the city who was banned earlier this week from participating in the upcoming local elections, called on people to protest on Saturday.
The exercise of freedom of assembly has become increasingly difficult as the police in Hong Kong have tighter control in recent months. However, we are not giving up our constitutional rights, he wrote on Twitter.
Wong is hated by Beijing, as state media often call him a separatist and traitor because he campaigns for greater autonomy for Hong Kong.
He denies seeking independence and says he simply campaigns for democratic freedoms and autonomy that Beijing promised to Hong Kong for 50 years after the 1997 delivery by Britain.
Other people who advocate greater autonomy have been allowed to participate in this month's elections.
Beijing operates Hong Kong under a model of a country, two systems that grant the city unprecedented freedoms in the authoritarian continental territory.
But many activists fear that those freedoms are being eroded by a resurgence of Beijing, particularly since the president Xi Jinping came to power.
The record protests this summer in which millions of people marched were triggered by an attempt now abandoned to allow extraditions to the authoritarian continent.
But when Beijing took a hard line, the movement shot up.
Protesters are demanding an investigation from the police, an amnesty for the arrested and totally free elections, all of which Beijing and local city leaders have rejected.
Over the months, protests have become increasingly violent, with smaller groups of unconditional activists throwing petrol bombs and bricks, as well as destroying pro-China companies.
Police have responded with increasing arrests, tear gas and rubber bullet discharges, while the mass beatings of people on both sides of the ideological division have become commonplace.