Thursday 19 September 2019

Protesters make 'Baltic Chain'

Thousands mark Soviet anniversary in peaceful Hong Kong show

Symbolic: Protesters form a human chain on the street outside the Cultural Centre in Hong Kong yesterday. Photo: Lillian SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images
Symbolic: Protesters form a human chain on the street outside the Cultural Centre in Hong Kong yesterday. Photo: Lillian SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images

Jessica Pang and Felix Tam

Thousands of chanting Hong Kong protesters joined peaceful "Baltic Chain" links of hands yesterday, with almost three months of anti-government demonstrations showing no sign of let-up across the Chinese-ruled territory.

Demonstrators, some masked, some using hand wipes to stay clean, linked hands across different districts as others held up banners thanking overseas nations for supporting "freedom and democracy" in Hong Kong.

In 1989, an estimated two million people joined arms across three Baltic states in a protest against Soviet rule that became known as the "Baltic Way" or "Baltic Chain".

"I joined the Hong Kong Way because it's peaceful," said protester Peter Cheung (27). "This is the 30th anniversary of the Baltic Way. I hope there will be a bigger chance to make an international noise."

The protests, triggered by a now-suspended bill that would have allowed extraditions to China, have plunged the former British colony into its worst crisis since its return to China in 1997 and pose a major challenge for Communist Party rulers in Beijing.

The unrest has widened into calls for greater freedom, fuelled by worries about the erosion of rights guaranteed under a "one country, two systems" formula, adopted after the 1997 handover, such as an independent judiciary and the right to protest.

Protesters are also planning a "stress test" of the airport this weekend.

The airport, reached by a gleaming suspension bridge carrying both rail and road traffic, was forced to close last week when protesters, barricading passageways with luggage trolleys, metal barriers and other objects, clashed with police.

China's Hong Kong affairs office condemned the mayhem as "near-terrorist acts".

"Go to the airport by different means, including MTR, airport bus, taxi, bike and private car to increase pressure on airport transport," protest organisers wrote online yesterday.

The Airport Authority published a half-page notice in newspapers urging young people to "love Hong Kong" and said it opposed acts that blocked the airport, adding that it would keep working to maintain smooth operations.

Hong Kong's high court extended an order restricting protests at the airport.

Some activists had apologised for last week's airport turmoil.

The Canadian consulate said it had suspended travel to mainland China for local staff, just days after a Chinese employee of the city's British consulate was confirmed to have been detained in China.

Beijing has said that Simon Cheng, the consulate employee, was detained in the border city of Shenzhen neighbouring Hong Kong.

It has accused Britain and other Western countries of meddling in its affairs in Hong Kong.

Canada's latest travel advisory on Thursday warned of reports of increased screening of travellers' digital devices at border crossings between mainland China and Hong Kong.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Canada's decision not to allow local staff to visit the mainland was one for Canada, which it respected. If people came to China and followed the law, they would have no problems, he told a daily news briefing.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of China said it had received multiple reports of Chinese border officials detaining journalists and searching their digital devices when travelling between the mainland and Hong Kong.

The protests are taking a toll on Hong Kong's economy and tourism, with the special administrative region on the cusp of its first recession in a decade.

Transport Secretary Frank Chan said airport passenger volume from August 1 to August 21 was down 11pc from the same period last year, with cargo volume down 14pc.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News