11 July 2024

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 Sunday, marking a change to what have often been violent clashes.

Sunday’s turnout of an estimated 1.7 million, according to the rally’s organizer, showed that the movement still has broad-based support despite chaotic scenes last week when protesters occupied the Chinese-ruled city’s airport, for which some activists apologized. [L4N2512QF]

The protests began more than 11 weeks ago as opposition to a now-suspended bill that would allow suspects to be extradited to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts and have swelled into wider calls for democracy.

Further demonstrations are planned in coming weeks, including another strike in districts across the former British colony.

Police said on Monday that while the demonstration was mostly peaceful, acts of “breaching public peace” happened afterwards with some protesters shooting hard objects at government offices and aiming laser beams at police officers.

Protesters had spilled out from Victoria Park, the designated rally area on Sunday, and streamed onto major thoroughfares towards the city’s financial center, chanting for the city’s Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam to step down.

Demonstrators later in the night urged each other to go home, breaking from previous instances of violent clashes with police, which have marred recent demonstrations.

In a statement on Sunday night the government said it was most important to restore social order as soon as possible and it would begin sincere dialogue 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 on Sunday there was a minimal police presence.

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 central government has taken an increasingly firm tone over the protests, accusing foreign countries, including the United States, of inciting unrest. The protests have presented one of the biggest challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012.

Over 700 people have been arrested since the protests began in June.