HONG KONG, Aug. 18 (UPI) — The organizers of a rally on Sunday afternoon in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park claimed that at least 1.7 million protesters turned out in a massive show of force against unpopular government leaders and a police force they accuse of brutality.
Heavy rains for most of the afternoon did not deter protesters, who filled the Victoria Park location with a sea of umbrellas that overflowed onto neighboring streets.
“I came out today because I am a Hong Konger and I need to protect the future of Hong Kong for my children,” said Carol Kwoh, who attended the rally with her husband and two children. “Hong Kong is changing so much. It’s turning into China. They are taking away our freedom and our democracy.”
Sunday’s demonstration marked the eleventh weekend in a row that protesters took to the streets in Hong Kong. The initial rally in early June came in response to a proposed extradition bill that would have make it easier to send criminal suspects to China for trial.
Today’s organizers, an activist coalition called the Civil Human Rights Front, said that the movement has evolved in response to abusive tactics by the Hong Kong police and the heavy influence of Beijing on their city’s politics.
“Hong Kongers have endured enough humiliation by the Hong Kong Government and the Hong Kong Police,” said Jimmy Sham, a leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, in an address to the assembled protesters.
He called on the administration of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam to respond to a set of five demands the protest movement has put forward, including the withdrawal of the extradition bill, an investigation into police actions during the demonstrations and direct elections to choose the city’s politicians.
Sham also urged the crowds of protesters to avoid the violence that has marred their movement in recent weeks.
“We want to gather the most Hong Kongers, and, using peaceful, rational and non-violent means, unite in spirit and action to express our indignation against police brutality as well as display Hong Kongers’ firm resolve,” Sham said.
The enormous turnout was seen by attendees as a positive sign that more extreme actions, such as an airport sit-in earlier this week that grounded hundreds of flights and erupted into violence, has not derailed the movement.
“Nobody knew how many people would come out because some might not want to be associated with the violence,” said Mike Siu, who attended the rally. “But with so many people here, it shows the movement is still more important. We haven’t been given another option. You either support the government or you support this movement and the government hasn’t been doing anything.”
Although the organizers were denied a permit from police to hold a march, the spillover from the park turned into a miles-long sea of umbrella-carrying protesters walking from Causeway Bay to the Central area of Hong Kong.
The protests remained peaceful for a second consecutive night, with very little police presence visible along the streets as demonstrators filled wide boulevards, chanting slogans calling for democracy and urging Hong Kongers to “add oil,” a local phrase that means to keep going strong.
As night fell, a smaller group of protesters occupied a road in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong, with some shooting objects into the Central Government Complex with slingshots and shining laser pointers, which have been a common item at the summer protests. However, they dispersed before confrontations with the police escalated into the use of tear gas or rubber bullets, which had marked recent protests.
Jimmy Sham, the Civil Human Rights Front organizer, told reporters on Sunday night that his group has already applied to the police for permission to march again on August 31. They plan to head to Hong Kong’s Liaison Office, the top representative of Beijing in the city.
Many protesters today said that they had no intention of giving up the movement until the Hong Kong government responds to their demands.
“Hong Kong is not just a place, it’s a spirit,” said Ronald Chan, who joined the marchers from the park. “Hong Kong is freedom, it is respect for each other, it is a fair legal system. We don’t want to lose that.”