Thousands return to streets to protest in Hong Kong

Protesters carrying yellow umbrellas march through main financial district demanding greater democracy.

Hong Kong
Protesters in Hong Kong continue to demand from China their right to directly elect the city's chief executive [Reuters]

Thousands of protesters carrying yellow umbrellas have marched through Hong Kong’s main financial district – the scene of the long-running “Occupy Central” sit-in last year.

Police were out in force on Sunday as the crowds slowly made their way along the 4-km route from Victoria Park to Central chanting, “We want democracy and the right to choose our own leader”.

Dozens of people turned up at the march carrying the old colonial flags with the Union Jack in the corner. One person even carried a sign stating that Hong Kong is British.

One of the flag carrying protesters told Al Jazeera that it was a statement to show that Hong Kong was not like the rest of China, and should not be treated as such.

As demonstrators reached their final destination in one of the richest parts of Hong Kong, founder of the Occupy movement Benny Tai spoke to the crowd, encouraging them to continue the movement.

Reminiscent of the two-month sit-in which ended in December, he quoted late artist John Lennon’s lyrics, “You may think that I’m a dreamer, but I am not the only one”, calling for solidarity.

According to the organisers approximately 13,000 people had turned out by the end of the protest. Police put the turnout at an estimated 6600.

The turnout was just a fraction of the 50,000 expected, but the range in ages was bigger than the original “occupy” protest, an Al Jazeera reporter at the scene said.

The Civil Human Rights Front, a collection of NGO’s organised Sunday’s march. Daisy Chan Si-ying, one of the organisers, said that conventional protests attracted fewer people after the occupy movement. She said that if the government did not pay attention to such peaceful gatherings, demonstrators may resort to more “radical” means of resistance.

The march marks the first major gathering since protest sites and a tent city blocking Hong Kong island’s main highway were cleared in December.

Protesters had been calling for more say in how the city’s leaders were chosen and for more free elections. Currently Beijing vets any candidates for the territory’s chief executive.

At the peak of the demonstrations last year, 100,000 people took to the streets and violent clashes with the police drew the world’s attention.

Au, a 21-year-old college student, was one of the protesters who slept on Hong Kong’s highways for the 79 days of the occupy sit-in.

He told Al Jazeera that many of the young people that took part in the protests from September to December did not turn up on Sunday, adding they were still recovering and making plans for a bigger revival of the movement.

The government responded to Sunday’s protests with a reminder that they are carrying out a two-month public consultation to gauge the community’s views on issues relating to the chief executive’s election.

Legislative councilor Albert Ho called the government’s reaction “nonsense”. He said that Beijing has remained largely silent, and Hong Kong’s government has not made any sincere gestures towards the protesters.

He said he was planning to resign from his seat in the Legislative council so that the public would be forced to vote to fill it. In effect, he said, it would trigger a defacto referendum on how the Hong Kong people felt about democracy.

Source: Al Jazeera