HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters were planning to rebuild “Lennon Walls” of anti-government graffiti on Saturday as they mark the fifth anniversary of the “Umbrella” street movement that gridlocked the Chinese-ruled city for weeks.
Anti-government protesters attend a rally at Edinburgh Place to show solidarity with detained political activists held at San Uk Ling detention center in Hong Kong, China September 27, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
A series of pro- and anti-Beijing protests is planned ahead of the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China on Tuesday, including at the consulate of former colonial power Britain.
Anti-government protesters have attacked the legislature, Beijing’s main Liaison Office, occupied the airport, thrown petrol bombs at police, vandalized metro stations and set street fires in more than three months of unrest.
Police have responded with tear gas, water cannon, rubber bullets and occasional live rounds fired into the air.
“They are not our children,” China supporter Yau Mei-kwang said of the frontline activists. “Because at this age, they should be studying, not running to the airport, hitting people, hitting the police, insulting people. That is not right.”
A pro-democracy protester who only gave his name as Wong defended the use of violence.
“We know that they will not listen if we rally in peace because we are not on the same level,” he said.
The anti-government protesters are angry about what they see as creeping Chinese interference in Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula intended to guarantee freedoms that are not enjoyed on the mainland.
China vehemently denies meddling. It has accused foreign governments, including the United States and Britain, of fanning the unrest.
Protesters appealed to the British two weeks ago to rein in China and ensure it respects the city’s freedoms.
Britain says it has a legal responsibility to ensure China abides by the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which lays out the “one country, two systems” arrangement.
At the same time, it is pinning its hopes on closer trade and investment cooperation with China, which since 1997 has risen to become the world’s second-largest economy, after it leaves the European Union at the end of October.
The protests were sparked in June by planned legislation, since withdrawn, that would have allowed the extradition of suspected criminals to mainland China. But they have since expanded into a broader pro-democracy movement.
Saturday is the fifth anniversary of the start of the “Umbrella” protests, student-led demonstrations that gridlocked the city for 79 days in 2014 calling for universal suffrage that failed to wrest concessions from Beijing. Thousands of people are expected to rally in the city center in the evening.
One of the leaders of those protests, the bespectacled Joshua Wong, 22, said on Saturday he will run for local district council elections in November.
“I will join the protest assembly tonight, during this weekend and also during 1st October,” he told reporters. “It’s time to let Emperor Xi (Chinese President Xi Jinping) be aware that now is our battle… We stand in solidarity, we stand as one.”
Wong is on bail after being charged with inciting and participating in an unauthorized assembly outside police headquarters on June 21.
Protests are also expected on Sunday to mark Global Anti-Totalitarianism Day, with solidarity events planned in cities across the world, including Paris, Berlin, Taipei, New York, Kiev and London.
But the biggest protests are likely to be on Oct. 1, marking the anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.
Activists plan a mass rally from Victoria Park in the bustling Causeway Bay district to Chater Garden, a cricket pitch back in colonial days, in downtown Central.
Official festivities for National Day have been scaled back, with authorities keen to avoid embarrassing Beijing at a time when President Xi Jinping is seeking to project an image of national strength and unity.
The Lennon Walls are large mosaics of Post-it notes calling for democracy which have cropped up in underpasses, under footbridges, outside shopping centers, at bus stops and universities and elsewhere across the territory.
Some Lennon Walls were torn down by pro-Beijing activists last weekend.
Additional reporting by Yiming Woo and Twinnie Siu; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Kim Coghill