HK protests

Source: NYT (9/27/14):

Police Arrest Dozens of Pro-Democracy Protesters in Hong Kong

A protester holding a sign that reads, “Civil disobedience and Occupy Central” on Saturday outside the Central Government Offices in Hong Kong. CreditVincent Yu/Associated Press
HONG KONG — A confrontation in Hong Kong between pro-democracy protesters and the police continued into a second day on Saturday, as dozens of students were arrested after occupying the forecourt of the local government’s headquarters. Thousands of supporters remained in the area, and some said the confrontation was a forerunner of bigger protests expected next week.

“We came to support the students, who merely wanted a dialogue about our demands,” Iris Cheung, a university student who had joined the crowd, said Saturday. “But you can see that the government doesn’t want dialogue,” she said.

“Now Occupy Central will be bigger, because people will be angrier,” Ms. Cheung said. She was referring to Occupy Central with Love and Peace, the city’s main pro-democracy movement, which is expected to hold a sit-in next week in Central, Hong Kong’s financial heart.

The demonstrators are protesting China’s plan for changing how Hong Kong elects its top leader, the chief executive, starting in 2017. The current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, has backed the plan, which for the first time would let the public vote for the top leader; Mr. Leung and his predecessors were selected by a committee dominated by Beijing loyalists.

An injured protester was tended to after clashing with the riot police on Saturday in Hong Kong. CreditLam Yik Fei/Getty Images

But critics say that vote would be meaningless, because the plan includes procedural hurdles that would screen out candidates who do not have Beijing’s implicit blessing.

The latest protests erupted on Friday night, at the end of a weeklong boycott of classes by university students to protest China’s election plan. The students, many of whom had gathered near the government headquarters, were joined on Friday by hundreds of high school students, and the peaceful rally gave way to a night of torrid protest.

A group of 200 or so students evaded the police and stormed into the forecourt near the entrance of the government headquarters, known to the demonstrators as Civic Square, which had recently been blocked off from the public. A ring of police officers surrounded the protesters inside the forecourt, but hundreds and eventually thousands of protesters gathered outside the fence, most of them apparently in support of the students.

“We didn’t come for violence,” said Paul Leung, a recent university graduate who came to support the students and stayed for much of the night. “The Civic Square belongs to the people, not the government. We have the right to be there, to demand that the government dialogue. But instead, they sprayed us, treated the students like criminals, not like citizens.”

By Saturday afternoon, dozens of additional police officers with shields and helmets had moved into the forecourt, and the remaining students were told they had five minutes to leave before force would be used. Amid jeers from protesters on the other side of the fence, the police one by one pulled away the protesters, who had joined arms. Sixty-one people were arrested, the police said.

Students staged a sit-in outside the Central Government Offices in Hong Kong on Saturday.CreditJerome Favre/European Pressphoto Agency

In a society with a tradition of reverence for education, the students have drawn an outpouring of support from classmates and other residents, some of whom sent bottled water, tissues and snacks to the demonstrators on Saturday. Some residents saw echoes of Beijing in 1989, when there was a surge of public support for students who occupied Tiananmen Square, before the protests were brutally suppressed.

“They are ready to pick up the democracy baton from the student movement in China in 1989,” said Sonny Lau, 57, who came to support the students early on Saturday morning, when he said he was pepper-sprayed by the police. “Part of our success would be to put pressure on the Communist Party by getting the world’s attention.”

Since Hong Kong was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, the former British colony has kept its own independent courts and legal protections for free speech and assembly, as well as a robust civil society. But many democratic groups and politicians say the city’s freedoms are eroding under mainland China’s growing political and economic influence.

Occupy Central is expected to announce soon that it will hold sit-in protests in Central starting on Wednesday, China’s National Day, which is also a public holiday in Hong Kong. Chan Kin-man, a co-founder of Occupy Central, has indicated that the announcement will be made on Sunday.

The Hong Kong Federation of Students said Saturday that the protest would go on at least into the night. The Hong Kong government’s secretary for security, Lai Tung-kwok, warned people to stay away from the area.

“Right now, there are still a considerably large number of people gathering there,” he said. “I appeal to them that they leave as soon as possible, and to other people not to go to the government headquarters or join in associated activities.”

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