Monday, September 29, 2014

Hong Kong Residents Defy Officials’ Call to End Protests

from nytimes

 HONG KONG — A wave of protest in Hong Kong extended into the working week on Monday as thousands of residents defied a government call to abandon street blockades across the city, students boycotted classes and the city’s influential bar association added to condemnation of a police crackdown on protesters a day earlier.
The continued public resistance underscored the difficulties that the Hong Kong government faces in defusing widespread anger that erupted on Sunday, after the police used tear gas, pepper spray and batons to break up a three-day sit-in by students and other residents demanding democratic elections in the semiautonomous Chinese territory.
On Monday afternoon, the Hong Kong government canceled the city’s annual fireworks show to mark China’s National Day, which falls on Wednesday — an implicit acknowledgment that officials expect the protests to continue for days.
The police crackdown Sunday not only failed to dislodge protesters from a major thoroughfare in the heart of Hong Kong but appeared Monday to have motivated more people to join the student-led protests. A government announcement that the riot police had been withdrawn from the protest centers also seemed to open the door to growing demonstrations. The number of protesters, which had ebbed overnight, swelled again by midday Monday, as office workers in slacks and dress shirts mixed with crowds of students in black T-shirts.
Many of the new arrivals said they were angered by the police’s actions on Sunday, which they called excessive.
“This morning I was happy to see that they stayed and insisted on continuing the protest,” said Cindy Sun, a 30-year-old bank worker who joined protesters in the Admiralty district during her lunch hour.
“What they were doing was not appropriate, especially the tear gas,” she said. “The students were completely peaceful.”
Chloe Wong, 46, a mother of two, said she was inspired to join the protesters in Admiralty by the scenes of tear gas being fired the day before. She said she could find time to participate for only an hour but wanted to show her support.
“The protesters, they are so young,” she said. “They are fighting for our future, for my children’s future.”
Demonstrators were also blocking major streets in the busy shopping district of Causeway Bay and in Mongkok in Kowloon, one of the world’s most densely packed places.
Hong Kong has maintained a reputation as a safe enclave for peaceful demonstration and commerce, and the crackdown here has raised the political cost of Beijing’s unyielding position on electoral change in Hong Kong. Late last month China’s legislature called for limits on voting reforms here and barriers for candidates for the position of chief executive, the city’s top leadership post.
The protesters are seeking fully democratic elections for the city’s leader in 2017. But under China’s plan for conducting those elections, only candidates vetted by a Beijing-friendly committee would be allowed to run.
Earlier Monday, the government said that it had pulled back the riot police from the areas where roads were being blocked. The government urged the demonstrators to end their street sit-ins so that life in this busy commercial city could return to normal.
Leung Chun-ying, the city’s top leader, said earlier the government opposes the “unlawful occupation actions by Occupy Central” and called for “the various sectors of the community to engage in rational discussions through peaceful and lawful means.”
But in Admiralty, home to the government’s offices and a focus of the demonstrators’ anger, many of the protesters said they were determined to stay until Mr. Leung resigned and answered their demands for democratic elections to choose his successor.
“We won’t leave until we have a dialogue between the government and the people,” said Agnes Yip, a sales worker in her 20s who had slept overnight on an expressway in Admiralty. “We’ll stay all day at least, and then tomorrow.”
Many of the protesters in Admiralty were wearing surgical masks and goggles in anticipation that the police would again try to disperse them with tear gas or pepper spray. The announcement about the riot police appeared to allay such fears, at least for the time being.
“Because the residents who have assembled on the roadways have largely returned to calm, the riot police have already withdrawn,” an unidentified spokesman for the government said in the statement Monday morning. The spokesman “urged the assembled residents to maintain calm and to peacefully disperse.”
​But after the statement was released, some police officers with riot shields and other crowd-control equipment remained near the protesters in Admiralty.
On Monday, the Hong Kong Bar Association condemned what it said had been “repeated, systematic, indiscriminate and excessive” use of tear gas against demonstrators in Admiralty. “Even though on occasions, a minority of demonstrators became confrontational with the police, the overwhelming majority of the demonstrators were visibly conducting themselves peacefully,” the bar association said in a statement.
An assistant police commissioner, Jacob Cheung Tak-keung, said at a news conference that officers had used a “minimal level of force” on Sunday after repeated warnings.
The police said Monday that a total of 41 people had been injured in clashes over the previous three days, including 12 police officers.
Hong Kong, a former British colony that was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, had been promised universal suffrage by 2017, when the city will have new elections for chief executive. The standoff between unarmed students and riot police sets the stage for a possibly prolonged struggle that poses a test for President Xi Jinping of China, who haschampioned a harsh line against political threats to Communist Party rule.
Alison Fung, a magazine editor who said she had been at the Admiralty sit-in since Sunday night, said that she and other demonstrators were angered by what she called the “wordplay” used to present China’s election proposal as a democratic advance.
“Probably about 10 years ago, Hong Kong was not so concerned about politics,” Ms. Fung said Monday. “But we want a more fair election so we can decide our own future. People feel that our opinions aren’t listened to.”
The Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the organizations leading the protests, called Sunday night for an indefinite student strike. On Monday, images of students holding gatherings at their schools in lieu of classes, many of them wearing black in support of the protests, could be seen on social media and in local news reports.
In another indication that the protests could broaden, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union called Sunday for a general strike by teachers in the city. The organization, which has around 90,000 members, called the police “enemies of the people” and said they had used “ruthless force” against unarmed civilians.
In a response Monday that drew some derision online, Hong Kong’s Education Bureau said it “respected all teachers,” pointing to a program it runs that rewards teachers for excellence. The bureau called on teachers to “uphold professionalism” and “make every effort to take care of students so that their normal schooling can be free from any interference.”
“All external political influence and pressure must be kept away from the school campus,” the statement added, a nod to accusations from pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong that students were being manipulated by people with a political agenda. Organizers of the protests have denied such accusations, saying that the student protesters are acting independently.
commentary on the website of the People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s main newspaper, claimed that the upheavals in Hong Kong were instigated by democratic radicals who had sought support from “anti-China forces” in Britain and the United States, and had sought lessons from independence activists in Taiwan. It called them a “gang of people whose hearts belong to colonial rule and who are besotted with ‘Western democracy.’ ”
Beijing has bristled at any concern voiced by foreign governments about the tensions in Hong Kong, including from Britain, whose treaty signed with China in 1984 set the conditions for Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty. But on Monday, the British Foreign Office issued a statement saying, “Hong Kong’s prosperity and security are underpinned by its fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to demonstrate.”
“It is important for Hong Kong to preserve these rights and for Hong Kong people to exercise them within the law,” the statement said.
Speaking at a regularly scheduled news conference Monday in Beijing, a spokeswoman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Hua Chunying, said that “Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong” and warned against interference, according to a statement posted on the ministry’s website.
“We hope related countries speak and act cautiously, don’t get involved in any way in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, don’t support the illegal activities of ‘Occupy Central,’ and don’t send out any wrong signals,” Ms. Hua said.
The United States Consulate in Hong Kong urged all sides to “refrain from actions that would further escalate tensions,” adding, “We do not take sides in the discussion of Hong Kong’s political development.” The statement appeared intended to answer Chinese officials who in the past have accused Washington of fomenting unrest in Hong Kong.
Despite the protests, Hong Kong’s financial markets opened as usual. The benchmark Hang Seng index closed 1.9 percent lower, the worst-performing major market in Asia. The Hong Kong Monetary Authority said that 44 bank branches, offices or ATMs had been temporarily closed Monday because of the protests.
Analysts said the short-term effects of the protests on business in Hong Kong were likely to be muted. In the longer term, they said, the local political climate could delay key budget approvals for the many large-scale infrastructure projects planned around the territory and could affect Hong Kong’s positioning as a financial center for China.
The protests triggered heightened censorship in mainland China. Phrases related to Hong Kong were deleted at levels exceeding anything that has been seen previously this year on the Sina Weibo social media platform, according to Weibscope, a monitoring service run by the Journalism and Media Studies Center at the University of Hong Kong. The photo-sharing application Instagram was blocked in mainland China on Sunday evening.

No comments:

Post a Comment