Hundreds of thousands march for freedom: Hong Kong update

Hundreds of thousands march for freedom: Hong Kong update

Pro-democracy protesters march on a street in Hong Kong on Sunday. (AP photo)
Pro-democracy protesters march on a street in Hong Kong on Sunday. (AP photo)

HONG KONG: Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through Hong Kong to mark Human Rights Day and press for greater democracy in the city in the biggest rally in about six months.

Protesters still clogged the main streets of the city hours after the masses began to leave the gathering point in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay and wind their way to the Central district. The was the first time in four months that an event organized by the Civil Human Rights Front has been given the go-ahead by the government.

Earlier in the day police said they arrested 11 people and uncovered an arms cache in a raid. Officers seized a semi-automatic pistol, bullet-proof jackets, retractable batons and pepper spray in the raid, which they suspect would have been used by an “extreme” group of people trying to attack police or “create chaos” during the rally, they said at a press conference, citing intelligence reports.

More than six months of violent protests that started because of a proposed law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China have developed into a movement for greater democracy. The activists are also calling for an independent inquiry into police conduct during the unrest.

Here’s the latest (all times local):

Thousands crowd streets (6.30pm)

Thousands of demonstrators carried on pouring through Hong Kong’s city center toward Central, with crowds backed up for kilometers in the biggest march since about 2 million people took to the streets in June.

Faceoff in Central (6pm)

Protesters in Central, the destination of the march, faced off with riot police who blocked the road leading to the western districts. The demonstrators shielded themselves with umbrellas and stood their ground about 100 meters from the officers.

March begins (3.15pm)

Demonstrators started leaving the park in Causeway Bay as they slowly began to march, with the procession backed up to and from the venue because of the number of people taking part.

Packed park (2pm)

Victoria Park was filled with tens of thousands of protesters for the rally, which was scheduled to start at 3pm. Crowds of protesters trying to make their way into the park were stuck in the surrounding streets. Police stood watchfully by as marchers chanted and unfurled banners calling for the government to meet their five demands.

One protester, a 24-year-old who would only identify himself as Mr Tang, said protesters needed to have courage and try different things to get the government to respond.

When asked whether the last six months had changed him, Mr Tang said: “I’m more concerned about politics, about the society and what people are fighting for. After seeing the news, we feel more angry and more concerned.”

Police ‘nervous’ (Sunday 10am)

The group suspected of being behind the arms cache that was seized is believed to have been involved in attacking the Mong Kok police station with petrol bombs on Oct 20, police said at the press conference. Those held Sunday were aged between 20 and 63 and more arrests may follow, they said.

Li Kwai Wah, senior superintendent at the Organised Crime Triad Bureau, said police were not previously aware of protesters planning to use guns, so “we’re very nervous”.

“I am urging the protesters today to pay extra attention to their surroundings and leave the scene and report to the police if there are signs of danger,” he said.

Superintendent Li called on organisers to be in “constant communication with the police so we can take appropriate action when necessary,” in the interests of the public.

Police have categorised Sunday’s rally as a “high risk” event , and plan to deploy almost 4,000 officers for the gathering.

Rally against deportation (Saturday 3pm)

About 700 people rallied on Saturday against the deportation of Yuli Riswati, an Indonesian domestic worker and award-winning writer who had reported on the city’s ongoing protests, the Apple Daily said.

Pro-government rally in Wan Chai (Saturday 2pm)

Hundreds of pro-government demonstrators gathered in Harbour Road, Wan Chai, Saturday, waving China and Hong Kong flags and condemning the violent protests and vandalism of the past months.

Organisers told local media Ming Pao that they think the vote for local district councils last month was unfair and called for “anti-general strike” action on Monday, in response to protesters’ plan for a general strike.

Firefighters seize flammable liquids (Saturday 1pm)

Fire department staff removed glass bottles and flammable solvents from hardware stores in Causeway Bay. The officers refused to confirm whether the seizures were related to Sunday’s rally.

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