Hong Kong protesters march on station to ‘educate’ Chinese mainlanders

Hong Kong has been rocked by a month of huge peaceful protests. (File/AP)
Updated 11 July 2019

Hong Kong protesters march on station to ‘educate’ Chinese mainlanders

  • The rally is the first major protest planned since last Monday’s unprecedented storming of parliament by largely young protesters
  • It is the first to take place in Kowloon, across the harbor from the main island

HONG KONG: Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters rallied outside a controversial train station linking the territory to the Chinese mainland on Sunday, the latest mass show of anger as activists try to keep pressure on the city's pro-Beijing leaders.
The rally was the first major large-scale protest since last Monday's unprecedented storming of parliament by largely young, masked protesters -- which plunged the international financial hub further into crisis.
Hong Kong has been rocked by a month of huge marches as well as a series of separate violent confrontations with police, sparked by a law that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.
The bill has since been postponed in response to the intense backlash but that has done little to quell public anger, which has evolved into a wider movement calling for democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms in the semi-autonomous city.
Organisers said some 230,000 people snaked their way through streets in the harbour-front district of Tsim Sha Tsui, an area popular with Chinese tourists. Police said 56,000 turned out at the protest's peak.
The march was billed as an opportunity to explain to mainlanders in the city what their protest movement is about.
Inside China, where news and information are heavily censored, the Hong Kong protests have been portrayed as a primarily violent, foreign-funded plot to destabilise the motherland, not a mass popular movement over Beijing's increased shadow over the semi-autonomous hub.
"We want to show tourists, including mainland China tourists what is happening in Hong Kong and we hope they can take this concept back to China," Eddison Ng, an 18-year-old demonstrator, told AFP.
Hong Kongers speak Cantonese but protesters were using Bluetooth to send leaflets in Mandarin -- the predominant language on the mainland -- to nearby phones, hoping to spread the word to mainlanders by digital word of mouth.
"Why are there still so many people coming out to protest now?" one man said in Mandarin through a loudspeaker. "Because the Hong Kong government didn't listen to our demands."
Many protest banners were written with the Simplified Chinese characters used on the mainland, not the Traditional Chinese system used in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
And a lawmaker had to coach crowds how to chant "Students are not rioters" using the correct Mandarin pronunciation.
Protesters are demanding the postponed extradition bill be scrapped entirely, an independent inquiry into police use of tear gas and rubber bullets, amnesty for those arrested, and for the city's unelected leader Carrie Lam to step down.
Beijing has thrown its full support behind Lam, calling on Hong Kong police to pursue anyone involved in the parliament storming and other clashes.
In an interview with the BBC on Sunday, China's ambassador to Britain said the extradition bill was needed to "plug loopholes" and that Beijing has "full confidence in the Hong Kong government".
Sunday's protest began on the waterfront -- the first time a rally has taken place off the main island -- and made its way to West Kowloon, a recently opened multi-billion-dollar station that links to China's high-speed rail network.
Police placed the glass and steel structure in virtual lockdown. Long lines of water-filled security barriers surrounded the station while only those with previously purchased tickets were being allowed in.
Ticket sales for Sunday afternoon were halted and only two entrances were open.
Protesters, some of them masked, faced off with police and chanted "Add Oil!", a Cantonese phrase for encouragement long embraced by protesters. But there were no clashes.
The terminus is controversial because Chinese law operates in the parts of the station dealing with immigration and customs, as well as the platforms, even though West Kowloon is kilometres from the border.
Critics say that move gave away part of the city's territory to an increasingly assertive Beijing.
Local politician Ventus Lau Wing-hong, one of those organising the rally, said there was no desire to occupy the station given the catalyst for their movement was opposing people being sent to the mainland.
Under Hong Kong's mini-constitution China's national laws do not apply to the city apart from in limited areas, including defence.
Hong Kong also enjoys rights unseen on the mainland, including freedom of speech, protected by a deal made before the city was handed back to China by Britain in 1997.
But there are growing fears those liberties are being eroded.
Among recent watershed moments critics point to are the disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians, the de facto expulsion of a foreign journalist and the jailing of democracy protest leaders.


Filipino expats unite as home country battles volcano’s wrath

Updated 47 sec ago

Filipino expats unite as home country battles volcano’s wrath

  • Filipino groups in Dubai are coming together to collect goods for donation for the Taal eruption victims
  • The Philippines remained on high alert on Friday as authorities monitored Taal, which is the second most active volcano in the country

DUBAI: A vast grey stretched across empty villages – once verdant, now lifeless after volcanic ash wiped its colors. The thick charcoal-like substance cloaked cracked roads, tumbled trees, and dilapidated houses, as an angry volcano rumbled in the Philippines.

Tens of thousands of people were displaced earlier this week when Taal, a picturesque tourist spot about 70 kilometers south of Manila, spew huge plume of volcanic ash to the sky and triggered sporadic tremors around the province.

“When can we go back to our homes?” a hopeful man asked Filipino volunteer Jaya Bernardo, as she visited an evacuation site near where the Taal Volcano erupted on Sunday.

She couldn’t answer him straight, Bernardo said, because that meant telling him there might not be anything to go back to.

Bernardo, who lives in a mildly-hit town around Taal, has been going around evacuation centers to give out care packages, saying it’s “important for people to come together” in times like this.

Within hours of the volcanic eruption, the call for help reached the UAE, home to about a million Filipino expats. Many community groups have been organizing donation drives to collect goods to be sent back home.

Lance Japor, who leads a community group in Dubai, said inquiries were coming in about how to help volcano victims even before a campaign was announced.

“What I’ve noticed is that the desire to help others in need is innate to us,” he told Arab News, adding it was not the first time Filipino expats showed urgent concern and care for their countrymen when a calamity hit the Philippines.

There was a strong response for families displaced from a city in the south of the country after armed rebels captured the area. A community group from Dubai flew to the restive city to hand out gifts to families who had taken refuge in an abandoned building.

Japor’s volcano campaign has attracted the help of private companies such as hotels donating blankets and pillows, and cargo companies pledging to deliver the packages for free to the Philippines.

Filipino expats have also expressed a desire to volunteer, Japor added, and a volunteer event has been scheduled for Jan. 18 at the Philippines’ Overseas Workers Welfare Administration’s office in Dubai.

Groups in the UAE are working with organizations in the Philippines to facilitate the donations and determine what the affected communities need. The list includes special face masks and eye drops, said Japor.

The Philippines remained on high alert on Friday as authorities monitored Taal, which is the second most active volcano in the country.

Volcanic ash has blanketed the area and villages lie empty, with authorities warning of a “bigger eruption” as earthquakes were still being felt around the area. 

The region was at alert level four from the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, meaning that “hazardous explosive eruption is possible within hours to days.” The highest alert level is five.

The institute strongly reiterated total evacuation of Taal Volcano Island and high-risk areas as identified in hazard maps.

“Residents around Taal Volcano are advised to guard against the effects of heavy and prolonged ashfall. Civil aviation authorities must advise pilots to avoid the airspace around Taal Volcano as airborne ash and ballistic fragments from the eruption column pose hazards to aircraft,” it added.

Police in the area have also warned residents against trying to go back to their houses without official clearance from authorities, but local media reports said people were sneaking back by boat to the island and nearby towns to check on their possessions.