'They're kids, not rioters': new generation of protesters bring Hong Kong to standstill
Sunday - 16/06/2019 21:28
Authorities urged to withdraw extradition bill as up to 2 million people take to streets despite Carrie Lam apology
A sea of protesters, most dressed in black and carrying white flowers of mourning, have swept through central Hong Kong to denounce a controversial extradition law and demand that the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, steps down.
Organisers claimed that nearly 2 million people turned out on Sunday, which would make the demonstration the largest in Hong Kong’s history. They poured in from all over the city, in numbers so large that the march route had to be extended, and then widened, halting all traffic outside government headquarters.
Echoes of protest songs, hymns and chants bounced off the surrounding high rises as darkness fell and then into the evening, hours after the early afternoon start of the protest, which remained peaceful throughout.
It was an extraordinary show of grassroots political power in a city where residents cannot choose their leaders but are free to take to the streets to denounce them. Veteran activists with years of protest experience walked beside novices who had little interest in politics until this crisis flared up.
“Before this week I had never been on a protest,” said 28-year-old Lau. “But I am a teacher, and I realised if I didn’t come I wouldn’t be able to face my students. This is their future.” Like many others, she had been unnerved by the arrests of activists and did not want her full name printed.
Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, had agreed to suspend the extradition bill after a week of protests, perhaps the most serious government climbdown in the face of public pressure since a security law was dropped in 2003. But if she hoped to defuse public anger before Sunday’s march, she badly misjudged the city’s mood.
“Suspending the law but not cancelling it is like holding a knife over someone’s head and saying, ‘I’m not going to kill you now.’ But you could do it any time,” said Betty, an 18-year-old protester who just finished school. “We’re fighting for our freedom.”
Demonstrators turned out in force, calling on authorities to withdraw the bill, free activists rounded up after previous demonstrations, and hold police accountable for violent crowd control tactics. Many also demanded Lam’s resignation.
Hong Kong’s largest demonstration was a 1989 protest against Beijing’s bloody crackdown on students that year.
“If indeed today’s turnout was at a record high, as organisers claim, Lam would appear to have succeeded in making Hong Kongers just as anxious and angry as they were about Tiananmen Square,” said Antony Dapiran, author of a history of protest in Hong Kong.