Strife-torn Hong Kong on Tuesday marked the 70th anniversary of Communist China’s founding with defiant “Day of Grief” protests and fresh clashes with police as pro-democracy activists ignored a ban on marches and took to the streets.
Activists are determined to overshadow Beijing’s festivities, using the anniversary to step up their nearly four months of protests pushing for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability.
Thousands marched through the streets of Hong Kong island on Tuesday afternoon, despite authorities rejecting an application to hold a rally there as police warned people “to leave the scene as soon as possible”.
Smaller crowds rallied in a number of other districts with clashes quickly breaking out.
In Tsuen Wan, masked protesters used umbrellas and sticks to beat riot officers after they made a series of arrests. The officers retreated into a nearby town hall after they came under a barrage of projectiles.
In Wong Tai Sin, police fired brief volleys of tear gas against protesters who had blocked nearby roads.
The biggest march remained on Hong Kong island, a frequent battlefield between police and protesters where multiple malls and shops remained shuttered for the public holiday.
“Three months on and our five demands have yet to be achieved. We need to continue our fight,” a protester, wearing a mask from the cult film and comic book “V for Vendetta”, told AFP.
Leader watches Beijing parade
The protests came as lavish celebrations were taking place in Beijing, including a huge military parade through Tiananmen Square under the gaze of China’s strongman President Xi Jinping.
Among those watching the parade was Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who has historically low approval ratings at home as public anger boils over Beijing’s increased control of the semi-autonomous city.
Millions have hit the streets in record-breaking numbers while hardcore activists have repeatedly clashed with police, in the biggest challenge to China’s rule since the city’s 1997 handover by Britain.
In a vivid illustration of the political insecurity now coursing through Hong Kong, city officials watched a morning harborside flag-raising ceremony from the safety of the nearby convention center.
Since the 1997 handover, officials had always attended the ceremony outside, even during torrential downpours.
But popular protests that erupted in June have made it increasingly risky for officials to appear in public.
A flag-raising ceremony on July 1 — the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover — was also watched from indoors as protesters flooded the streets and later laid siege to the city’s legislature.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung delivered an address in which he praised China’s development over the last 70 years.
But he said officials recognized they needed “new thinking to try to address deep-rooted problems” in Hong Kong.
Throughout the morning police ramped up security checks and conducted frequent stop and searches while authorities announced the closure of a dozen subway stations.
But the measures did little to halt crowds appearing in the afternoon.
Rival pro-China rallies were also held.
In the morning, a crowd of some 50 people waved flags and chanted “Long live the motherland!”
“We are Chinese and the whole nation is celebrating,” Kitty Chan, 30, told AFP.
Hong Kong’s protests were initially sparked by a now scrapped plan to allow extraditions to the mainland but have since snowballed into a much wider movement of popular anger against city leaders and Beijing.
Among the demands made by protesters is an inquiry into the police, an amnesty for the more than 1,500 people arrested and universal suffrage — all of which have been rejected by Beijing and Lam.
Image: AFP / Mohd RASFAN The largest unsanctioned rally kicked off in Causeway Bay district