Monday 14 October 2019

HK protesters plead with US for protection from Chinese

Clashes: A man films a fire set by protesters at the entrance of a subway station in Hong Kong. Photo: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters
Clashes: A man films a fire set by protesters at the entrance of a subway station in Hong Kong. Photo: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

Eileen Ng

Thousands of demonstrators in Hong Kong urged US President Donald Trump to "liberate" the Chinese territory during a peaceful march yesterday, but fresh violence broke out later as police fired tear gas at protesters who vandalised subway stations and blocked traffic.

Demonstrators had flooded a park in central Hong Kong, chanting "Resist Beijing, liberate Hong Kong" and "Stand with Hong Kong, fight for freedom". Many of them, clad in black shirts and wearing masks, waved American flags and carried posters that read "President Trump, please liberate Hong Kong" as they marched to the US Consulate nearby.

Protesters hold a banner appealing for help from the US. Photo: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters
Protesters hold a banner appealing for help from the US. Photo: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

"Hong Kong is at the forefront of the battle against the totalitarian regime of China," said Panzer Chan, one of the organisers of the march.

Hong Kong has been rocked by three months of unrest sparked by a proposed law that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial. Many saw the extradition bill as a glaring example of the erosion of civil liberties and rights promised under a "one country, two systems" framework when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Hong Kong's government promised this past week to formally withdraw the bill, but that failed to appease the demonstrators, who have widened their demands to include calls for direct elections for the city's leaders and an independent probe into alleged police brutality against protesters.

The unrest has become the biggest challenge to Beijing's rule since Hong Kong's return from Britain. Beijing and the entirely state-controlled media have portrayed the protests as an effort by criminals to split the territory from China, backed by hostile foreigners.

Protesters yesterday urged Washington to pass a bill, known as the Hong Kong Democratic and Human Rights Act, to support their cause. The bill proposes sanctions against Hong Kong and Chinese officials found to suppress democracy and human rights in the city, and could also affect Hong Kong's preferential trade status with the US.

Just before the rally ended, violence broke out after riot police detained several people and chased a crowd out of the nearby Central subway station.

Angry protesters smashed glass windows and sprayed graffiti at the station's exits.

Protesters burned cardboard boxes and other debris to start a fire at one of the exits.

They also set a fire at a nearby street, but firefighters quickly snuffed it out.

The government said protesters blocked traffic at a major thoroughfare near City Hall. In the type of cat-and-mouse battle that has characterised the protests, riot police pursued protesters down streets, but they kept regrouping. Police fired multiple rounds of tear gas in the Causeway Bay shopping area after protesters heckled them and refused to leave. They also searched dozens of young people on the street and inside subway stations.

The US State Department said in a travel advisory on Friday that Beijing had undertaken a propaganda campaign "falsely accusing the United States of fomenting unrest in Hong Kong". It said US citizens and embassy staff were targeted and urged them to exercise increased caution.

Some American legislators are pressing Mr Trump to take a tougher stand on Hong Kong. But the president has suggested it's a matter for China to handle, though he also has said no violence should be used.

Political analysts suggest Mr Trump's response has been muted because he doesn't want to disrupt talks with China over their tariff war.

Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said last week that he would recommend Mr Trump take "more forceful action" if Chinese authorities crush the demonstrations.

The protests are an embarrassment to China's ruling Communist Party ahead of the October 1 celebration of its 70th anniversary in power.

Irish Independent

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