HONG KONG (Reuters) – Over a thousand protesters in Hong Kong gathered in a town near the border on Sunday, seeking to keep up pressure on the government to give in to their demands for greater democracy.
The demonstrators in Sheung Shui vented their anger at so-called “parallel traders” from China who buy vast amounts of duty free goods in Hong Kong and take them back to the mainland to sell at a profit.
Locals say it pushes up prices and adds to growing tensions between Hong Kong residents and mainland Chinese.
Sunday’s protests follow a march in central Hong Kong of at least tens of thousands on New Year’s Day and an escalation in clashes with the police over the festive period.
The marchers, including families with children, shouted slogans such as “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our times!” and “Patriots use China-made products, don’t parallel trade!”
Police maintained a visible presence, with patrols in riot gear standing by at the town’s train station and in several areas along the planned route of the march, which had received a police permit to proceed.
Many shops were closed.
“The mainland Chinese come here, block the streets with their bags … rents have gone up and it has made things more expensive for Hong Kongers,” said Jasmin, a 19-year old student dressed all in black, who only gave her first name.
“I want the government to know that too many of them are coming over here.”
Anti-government protests in Hong Kong escalated in June over a now-withdrawn extradition bill, but have since developed into a broader movement, with demands including universal suffrage and an independent inquiry against alleged police brutality.
The police maintain they have been reactive and restrained.
Many people in Hong Kong are angered by Beijing’s tight grip on the city which was promised a high degree of autonomy under this framework when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Beijing denies interference and blames the West for fomenting the unrest.
The protest movement is supported by 59% of the city’s residents polled in a survey conducted for Reuters by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute.
In a Saturday statement, China’s ministry of human resources and social security said the head of its Hong Kong Liaison Office, the most senior mainland political official based in the Chinese-controlled territory, had been replaced.
Wang Zhimin, who had held the post since 2017, had been replaced by Luo Huining, who until November was the top communist party official in the northern province of Shanxi.
Reuters reported exclusively in November that Beijing was considering potential replacements for Wang, in a sign of dissatisfaction with the Liaison Office’s handling of the crisis, the worst since the city reverted from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Reporting by Clare Jim and Mari Saito, Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Kim Coghill