Pro-democracy protesters expanded their rallies throughout Hong Kong on Monday, defying calls to disperse in a major pushback against Beijing’s decision to limit democratic changes in the Asian financial hub. VPC
HONG KONG — Pro-democracy protesters took to the streets Tuesday in a growing confrontation with China over the financial hub’s future as either an enclave of freedom or another communist-controlled city.
Protest leaders set a Wednesday deadline for a response from the government to their demands for reforms and said they would soon announce new civil disobedience plans.
Some protesters are already labeling the movement “the umbrella revolution” for the umbrellas many are holding to deflect pepper spray and tear gas that was lobbed by police on Sunday night.
That fueled even more protesters to come out in force Monday. Tens of thousands of young demonstrators blocked what are normally some of Hong Kong’s busiest streets.
“It’s the ‘umbrella revolution,'” said Emily Pang, 24, a cricket club receptionist who planned to stay overnight in the streets beside one of many barricades. “I have to protect our Hong Kong,” she said.
The protest was sparked by anger over China’s refusal to allow the open selection of candidates for Hong Kong’s leader, called the chief executive, in the city’s first democratic election scheduled for 2017. Instead, a panel will pick two or three candidates to run.
At stake is not just the election but the future of the former British colony as a semiautonomous city and the prospect of the pro-democracy movement spreading to the mainland.
“This is anything but a flash in the pan,” said Scott Harold, a political scientist at RAND Corp. Beijing wants to crack down on the protests so that Hong Kong’s political freedoms don’t “infect” the rest of the country, he said.
Wall Street is also watching the protests nervously, as the world’s second-largest economy can make global markets shudder. The Dow initially plunged 170 points early Monday before mostly recovering by day’s end.
China, which has ruled Hong Kong since 1997 as “one country, two systems,” has denounced the week-long protest and blocked information about it from reaching the mainland. Instagram was blocked Sunday. Beijing also blocks other globally popular sites, including Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
Chinese state media have offered little coverage of what’s happening in Hong Kong other than noting an illegal gathering was out of control and being curtailed by police.
In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the United States is closely watching the situation and is calling on authorities to “exercise restraint.”
“The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong,” Earnest said, adding that people should have “a genuine choice of candidates.”
The protests could escalate on Wednesday and Thursday, which are public holidays in Hong Kong for China’s National Day. Oct. 1 marks 65 years since the Communist Party seized power. The demonstrations already prompted China on Monday to cancel a massive fireworks display planned for Wednesday over Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbor.
On bridges near the government headquarters here, banners proclaim, “Do u hear the people sing,” a phrase from Les Miserables, and “don’t want fake democracy.”
Hong Kong’s current chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, said there was no truth to rumors that the Chinese army was about to intervene, and he called on the protesters to return home. “We don’t want Hong Kong to get messy,” Leung said in a statement broadcast Monday.
Riot police use pepper spray against protesters after thousands of people block a main road to the financial central district outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Sept. 28, 2014.(Photo: Vincent Yu, AP)
Occupy Central, a civil disobedience group that also advocates for democracy, called on Leung to resign Monday. The group said the protest was now “a spontaneous movement” of all Hong Kong people.
Several protesters said Monday this is their first taste of political action.
“The tear gas changed my mind,” Pang said. “The students had no weapons, why did the police do that? We are all Hong Kong people, I think they are listening to orders from above.”
Edith Va, 30, held a sign demanding the resignation of the chief executive. “I wanted to speak out to support the Hong Kong students, who protest peacefully,” said Va, who works in the fashion industry. “There’s a long, long way to go to get democracy. But we are hopeful it will happen one day.”
Joseph Cheng, 64, a political science professor at City University of Hong Kong who was arrested at Sunday’s protest and held for 12 hours, said, “We want to uphold our core values, our lifestyle and our dignity. We don’t want to be reduced to an ordinary big city in mainland China.”
Gary Yeung, 25, who runs an education firm, noted there has been no crime or looting.
“Not a single shop was broken into or a car set on fire, that’s extraordinary,” he said between shifts patrolling for people who might need medical help and organizing donated supplies.
Other volunteers picked up litter, handed out water and masks to ward off tear gas and helped others cross over high barriers set up on the roads.
“This is the first time complete strangers worked together,” Yeung said. “Sunday was more like a war zone, with people running for their lives. It’s more like a festival or market now, and the more people come, the less scary it feels.”
“Right now morale is high, but no one guessed Tiananmen Square would happen,” he added, referring to the bloody crackdown of the 1989 democracy movement in Beijing. “This could go very good or very bad.”
Thousands of pro-democracy protesters mass outside Hong Kong’s government headquarters, campaigning for greater political freedoms from Beijing. Video provided by AFP Newslook
Automatically Generated Transcript (may not be 100% accurate)
Contributing: David Jackson and Jim Michaels in Washington
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