Political Crisis Deepens in Hong Kong as Protesters Retake Streets
Thousands march in defiance of police ban on demonstration
Updated Sept. 15, 2019 6:15 am ET
HONG KONG—Political turmoil engulfing this global financial center showed no signs of abating Sunday as tens of thousands of pro-democracy demonstrators marched through the streets in defiance of a police ban on the protest.
People of all ages, many unmasked and some carrying children, walked more than 2 miles from a shopping district, where usually busy stores were shuttered, to downtown Hong Kong. Many chanted, “Five demands! Not one less!,” “Fight for freedom!” and “Revolution of our times!”
At 5:50 pm Sunday, @hkpoliceforce deployed a water cannon truck and fired blue dye to disperse demonstrators defying a police ban on a march
As protesters retreated from Admiralty and headed east on Hong Kong Island, at least one fire was set on Queen Road East to barricade roads
The demonstrations turned violent late Sunday as hundreds of protesters hurled bricks and Molotov cocktails over water-filled plastic barriers and into lines of riot police outside the government headquarters in Admiralty. Police used tear gas and water cannon to push back the group, including spraying blue dye to mark those involved and make them identifiable if they fled.
The 15th straight Sunday of demonstrations came after a day of localized clashes Saturday, a public holiday, between pro-democracy protesters and groups supporting the government inside shopping malls around the city, with police making some arrests.
The scale of the crowds Sunday evoked mass marches earlier this summer, suggesting efforts by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to weaken and divide the opposition movement are having little effect, and the crisis remains a challenge for the Chinese leadership in Beijing. Mrs. Lam on Sept. 4 withdrew an extradition bill that sparked the summer of unrest and pledged to start dialogue with the community.
The leader urged society not to support hard-core protesters who have used violent tactics. She promised to crack down hard on lawbreakers, while police banned Sunday’s proposed peaceful rally, citing the risk of violence breaking out as has happened in earlier weekends.
The Civil Human Rights Front, which had proposed the rally, has organized three earlier marches that it estimates drew at least a million each time.
The massive social unrest combined with the U.S.-China trade dispute and slowing Chinese growth are threatening to tip Hong Kong’s economy into recession, officials have warned. Violent protests have disrupted flight services and road transportation, putting a dent in the city’s image as a safe city and an international financial hub.
On Sunday, the city’s airport authority said passenger volume dropped 12.4% in August from a year ago, mainly due to significant declines in traffic to and from mainland China, Southeast Asia and Taiwan. Overall tourist arrivals fell 40% last month from a year earlier, the worst decline since May 2003, when Hong Kong was grappling with the deadly SARS virus.
Early Sunday afternoon, tens of thousands of protesters streamed down major streets heading toward Central, with some of them holding big U.S. flags and carrying a banner reading: “President Trump Please Liberate Hong Kong.”
Many in the crowd sang “Glory to Hong Kong,” a new anthem of the protest movement.
Some protesters brought their families despite the fact that the march was declared illegal.
“We hope our children have a future, because now in Hong Kong, we cannot see any hope,” said Charis, 30, who had her 7-month old daughter strapped to her front. “We need to stand here, we need to walk here. We need to tell government, we need five demands, not one less,” she added.
Protesters’ five demands include an inquiry into allegations of police brutality, amnesty for arrested protesters and electoral reforms to allow Hongkongers to vote for their leaders. Only one, the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to China, has been met.
The fact that large numbers turned out for Sunday’s March, including many families and elderly residents, suggest that many in Hong Kong believe that their government’s response so far isn’t sincere, said Mr. Law, a 49-year-old who works at a nonprofit focused on engaging youth and who declined to give his first name.
“What they have done so far is window dressing,” Mr. Law said. “They just want to show the rest of the world that they are doing something. But we Hong Kong people understand that they are not doing what we want.”
Mr. Law, who like many other protesters didn’t wear a mask to veil his face, said he wasn’t worried that he might be identified by the authorities. “There are so many others like me,” he said. “We don’t need the government’s permission to take to the streets.”
A 57-year-old administrator in a property management office who called himself Mr. Pao, giving only his surname, said this was his fourth march—but it was the first he was able to convince his son to join. His son, a 25-year-old recent graduate with an architecture degree from the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, said he had been deterred by scenes of violence on the television but decided he had to speak up.
“We need to stand here for our future,” said the younger Mr. Pao. “The freedom to speak anything we want. The freedom to protest. I think that’s the minimum foundation of everything.”
The sentiments echoed those voiced by many who marched chanting, “Liberate Hong Kong,” and expressing concerns in interviews that China’s central government is steadily eroding the city’s freedoms. On one block small, red Chinese flags were scattered on the ground to be trampled. Many protesters carried signs on which the yellow stars of China’s flag had been rearranged to form a swastika.
The elder Mr. Pao, who said he typically attended protests after church, said the erosion of the city’s freedom by Beijing has grown day by day since the handover from British control in 1997. “I think the parents want a better future for our teenagers,” he said.
A retired married couple, who gave only their surname, Lam, said they had protested almost every weekend since the first big march on June 9.
“We are not scared. We don’t even wear a mask today.” Mr. Lam said. “We are backed by so many people here. It’s impossible for the police to arrest all.”
Mrs. Lam, who is in her early 60s, says she’d want to fight the government with her life. “I feel really sorry for the kids,” she said. “I am too old to do anything. That’s why I have no choice but to come out to show my support.”
—Chun Han Wong and Andrew Dowell contributed to this article.