HONG KONG: Tens of thousands of Hong Kong protesters are expected to join a New Year’s Day march on Wednesday as anti-government demonstrations that have embroiled the Chinese-ruled city for over half a year spill into 2020.
The pro-democracy march is being organized by the Civil Human Rights Front, a group that has arranged a number of marches last year that drew millions.
It will kick off from Victoria Park in the popular Causeway Bay shopping district, and end in the heart of the central financial district.
Thousands of Hong Kong revellers had earlier welcomed in 2020 on neon-lit promenades along the iconic skyline of Victoria Harbor, chanting the movement’s signature eight-word Chinese protest couplet — “Liberate Hong Kong. Revolution of our Time.” — for the final eight seconds before clocks struck midnight.
A sea of protesters then surged down Nathan Road, a major boulevard, blocking all lanes in a spontaneous march breaking out within minutes of the new decade. Some held signs reading “Let’s keep fighting together in 2020.”
Overnight, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets in several districts including Mong Kok, and sprayed crowds briefly with a water cannon after some roads were blocked.
One woman was hit in the face with a projectile according to local media reports, and several arrests were made.
China’s President Xi Jinping said in a New Year’s speech that Beijing will “resolutely safeguard the prosperity and stability” of Hong Kong under the so-called “one country, two systems” framework granting the city a high degree of autonomy under Chinese rule.
Wednesday’s march, which has been approved by the police, will call on authorities to respond to the protesters’ five key demands including full democracy and an independent inquiry into allegations of police brutality.
Many are angered by Beijing’s growing influence in the city which was promised a high degree of autonomy when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Beijing denies interference and blames the West for fomenting the unrest.
A group of 40 parliamentarians and dignitaries from 18 countries had written an open letter to Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam on New Year’s Eve, urging her to “seek genuine ways forward out of this crisis by addressing the grievances of Hong Kong people.”
The protest movement is supported by 59 percent of the city’s residents polled in a survey conducted for Reuters by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute.
Police, who reject allegations of brutality and say they have shown restraint, have arrested nearly 6,500 people since the protests began escalating in what is the worst political crisis faced by the city in decades.
Protesters have thrown petrol bombs and rocks, with police responding with tear gas, water cannon, pepper spray, rubber bullets and occasional live rounds. There have been several injuries.