Hong Kong protesters march to U.S. Consulate in plea for help

Tens of thousands of protesters marched to the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong on Sunday to call for American support for their movement, which is seeking greater democracy and independence from Beijing. Photo by Thomas Maresca/UPI

HONG KONG, Sept. 8 (UPI) — As protests spread across Hong Kong for a 14th straight weekend, massive numbers of demonstrators staged a rally near the U.S. Consulate General on Sunday, calling for support from Washington lawmakers and the Trump administration.

Chanting “Fight for freedom! Stand with us!” and singing The Star-Spangled Banner, tens of thousands filled the streets and parks surrounding the consulate, many of them carrying American flags.

Protesters said they were looking to Washington to pass the proposed Hong Kong Human Rights and Decency Act, which would punish officials who suppress basic freedoms in Hong Kong with measures such as freezing their U.S.-based assets and denying them entry to the country.

“We need the U.S. to add pressure,” said Daniel Lee, a student attending the protest. “We have tried many other ways, but the government isn’t responding to our demands. They just don’t care about the Hong Kong people. But this act can do something about their assets and make them pay attention.”

The bill, which was co-sponsored by U.S. Senators Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Tom Cotton, R-Ark.;and Ben Cardin, D-Md., has bipartisan support and lawmakers have called it a priority when Congress returns to work on Monday.

In a statement Wednesday, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that Congress looks forward to “swiftly advancing” the act and condemned the use of force by police against protesters.

“The pro-Beijing leadership in Hong Kong must ensure a political system accountable to the people, including granting universal suffrage and investigating police violence,” Pelosi said. “The escalating violence and use of force perpetrated by the Hong Kong authorities against their own people in recent weeks, which has led to tragic loss of life, must end now.”

Chapman Chen, a protester wearing a red “Make Hong Kong Great Again” baseball cap on Sunday, said that Hong Kong has turned into a crucial battlground for maintaining democracy against a growing authoritarianism around the world.

“We are pleading with the U.S. to pass the act to sanction Hong Kong and Chinese authorities for gross violations of human rights,” said Chen. “Hong Kong is on the front line between democracy and the Chinese model of totalitarianism and state-controlled capitalism.”

A gesture this week from embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to fully withdraw the extradition bill that sparked the city’s summer of discontent did little to mollify protesters. Their demands have evolved into a movement that seeks to hold onto autonomy in legal and political affairs under its “one country, two systems” arrangement with Beijing that has been in place since the 1997 handover from Britain.

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Demonstrators Sunday chanted “Five demands! Not one less!” in reference to their platform, which calls for steps such as an investigation into police actions during the demonstrations, amnesty for arrested protesters and direct elections to choose the city’s politicians.

The weekend also saw continued outbreaks of violence as protesters and riot police squared off on improvised battlegrounds all throughout the city.

On Saturday night, groups of protesters clashed with police near a makeshift memorial outside of Prince Edward subway station, the scene of a violent crackdown last weekend that saw riot police storming the station with pepper spray and batons.

A planned attempt by protesters to disrupt transportation to Hong Kong International Airport on Saturday was largely thwarted by police, who came out in force at train stations and ferry stops.

After the peaceful march on the U.S. Consulate on Sunday, some groups of protesters smashed windows and set a fire at the entrance to the Central subway station, while riot police dispersed crowds with tear gas and made arrests in Causeway Bay, a major shopping district in Hong Kong.

Many of the demonstrators are students, and while the new school year started last week, protesters say there is no sign of the movement ebbing as a deep and lasting rift has grown between citizens and authorities.

“This is not the end,” said Y.K. Chan, a recent college graduate. “Most students feel that their trusted figures, such as teachers or government leaders, can no longer be trusted. When average people see the police, they feel afraid. I think it’s been traumatic for the younger generation.”

Authorities, meanwhile, have continued to target high-profile Hong Kong activists with a wave of arrests in recent weeks. On Sunday, Joshua Wong, the student who became the face of the 2014 Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong, was arrested at the airport on his return from Taiwan.

In a statement made on Twitter through his legal representative, Wong said that he believed an error was made on his bail certificate from an earlier arrest and that he expected to be released after a hearing on Monday.

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