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Tens of thousands flood Hong Kong park for latest rally

HONG KONG. Protesters gather in Hong Kong Sunday, August 18, 2019. Thousands of people streamed into a park in central Hong Kong for what organizers hope will be a peaceful demonstration for democracy in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. (AP)

HONG KONG -- Heavy rain fell on tens of thousands of umbrella-toting protesters Sunday, August 18, as they marched from a packed park in central Hong Kong, where mass pro-democracy demonstrations have become a regular weekend activity this summer.

While recent rallies have been marked by violent clashes with police, organizers said they hoped Sunday's assembly would be peaceful.

"We hope that there will not be any chaotic situations today," said organizer Bonnie Leung. "We hope we can show the world that Hong Kong people can be totally peaceful."

Leung's group, the Civil Human Rights Front, has organized three massive marches in Hong Kong since June. While all three were peaceful, the protest movement has been increasingly marked by clashes between demonstrators and police.

In Beijing, You Wenze, a spokesman for China's ceremonial legislature, condemned statements from U.S. lawmakers supportive of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.

You called the lawmakers' comments "a gross violation of the spirit of the rule of law, a blatant double standard and a gross interference in China's internal affairs."

He said that Hong Kong's 7.5 million people and the Chinese population as a whole rejected the actions of a "very small group of violent protesters" as well as "any interference of foreign forces."

You did not mention any specific lawmaker, but numerous U.S. senators and Congress members, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have affirmed the U.S. commitment to human rights and urged Hong Kong's government to end the standoff.

Congress also has the power to pass legislation affecting Hong Kong's relationship with the U.S. in ways that could further erode the territory's reputation for stability and rule of law. That includes the recent re-introduction of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in Congress, which would among its other provisions require the secretary of state to issue an annual certification of Hong Kong's autonomy to justify special treatment afforded to the city.

More directly, President Donald Trump could simply issue an executive order suspending Hong Kong's special trading status with the U.S., a move that could have a devastating effect on the local economy at a time when Beijing and Washington are engaged in a bitter trade war.

The protest movement's demands include Lam's resignation, democratic elections and an independent investigation into police use of force.

Harley Ho, a 20-year-old social work student who attended Sunday's rally, said protesters were undeterred by the rain and would not rest until their demands were met.

"We will stand here, we will take action until they respond to us," she said. "In the rain, our spirit becomes stronger."

Members of China's paramilitary People's Armed Police force have been training for days across the border in Shenzhen, including on Sunday morning, fueling speculation that they could be sent in to suppress the protests. The Hong Kong police, however, have said they are capable of handling the protests. (AP)


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