Hong Kong protesters throng streets peacefully in pouring rain

Anti-government protesters attend a rally in the Hung Hom district of Hong Kong on Saturday, August 17, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 18 August 2019
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Hong Kong protesters throng streets peacefully in pouring rain

  • Anger over a now-suspended bill that would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China erupted in June

HONG KONG: Hundreds of thousands of anti-government protesters rallied peacefully in Hong Kong on Sunday, filling major thoroughfares under torrential downpours in the eleventh week of what have been often violent demonstrations in the Asian financial hub.
Sunday's turnout showed that the movement still has broad-based support despite the ugly scenes witnessed in recent days when protesters occupied the Chinese-ruled city's airport, a move for which some activists apologised.
It was the calmest weekend protest since the latest demonstrations against perceived creeping Beijing influence in the former British colony began.
"They’ve been telling everyone we're rioters. The march today is to show everyone we are not," said a 23-year-old named Chris, who works in marketing and was dressed all in black, including a scarf covering his face and baseball cap.
"It does not mean we won’t keep fighting. We will do whatever is necessary to win, but today we take a break, then we reassess."
One protester shouted at others who were jeering at police, "Today is a peaceful march! Don’t fall into the trap! The world is watching us," prompting the group to move on.
Late in the evening, some demonstrators were urging others to go home and rest.
Anger over a now-suspended bill that would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China erupted in June, but the unrest has been fuelled by broader worries about the erosion of freedoms guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" formula put in place after Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule in 1997, including an independent judiciary and right to protest.

SENSITIVE TIME FOR BEIJING
The protests present one of the biggest challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping since he came to power in 2012, with the ruling Communist Party preparing to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic on Oct. 1.
Protesters held aloft placards with slogans including "Free Hong Kong!" and "Democracy now!" and umbrellas to shield them from the sometimes heavy rain.
Some aimed green lasers at police and government buildings. The crowd in Causeway Bay's leafy Victoria Park, where the rally started, included elderly people and young families, with some parents carrying toddlers.
Despite rally organisers not having permission to march, the park could not accommodate the crowd, which thronged nearby streets. Many protesters headed towards the city's financial centre, chanting for the city's Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, to step down.
It was impossible to put an exact figure on the number of protesters. The organisers put the number at 1.7 million, adding they had applied for permission to march to the Hong Kong Liaison Office, Beijing's main representative body in the city, on the last day of the month.
Police estimated there were 128,000 in Victoria Park at the height of the protest.
"It's bloody hot and it's raining. It's a torture just to turn up, frankly. But we have to be here because we have no other choice," said a 24-year-old student named Jonathan.
"We have to continue until the government finally shows us the respect that we deserve."
A government spokesman said the protests were generally peaceful, but they had disrupted traffic badly.
"The most important thing at present is to restore social order as soon as possible," he said. "When everything is calm, the government will engage in a sincere dialogue with the public to fix the social rifts and rebuild social harmony."
Aside from Lam's resignation, demonstrators are seeking complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, a halt to descriptions of the protests as "rioting", a waiver of charges against those arrested, an independent inquiry and resumption of political reform.

"WE WILL STILL FIGHT"
"When we were young, we didn’t think about it. But my son tells me: After 2047, what will happen to me?," said a history teacher named Poon, referring to the year when the 50-year agreement enshrining Hong Kong's separate system will lapse.
"I will come again and again and again. We do not know how any of this is going to end. We will still fight," she said.
Police have come under criticism for using increasingly aggressive tactics to break up demonstrations and on Sunday some people handed out balloons resembling eyeballs, a reference to the injury suffered by a female medic hit by a pellet round in the eye.
On Saturday, however, a demonstration in support of the government attracted what organisers said was 476,000 people, although police put the number of attendees at 108,000.
Beijing has struck an increasingly strident tone over the protests, accusing foreign countries including the United States of fomenting unrest. Scenes of Chinese paramilitary troops training this past week at a stadium in the city of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, gave a clear warning that mainland intervention by force is possible.
Last week, protesters who occupied the terminal at Hong Kong's airport forced the cancellation of nearly 1,000 flights and detained two men they thought were pro-government sympathisers, prompting Beijing to liken the behaviour to terrorism.
"We are Hong Kongers. We are here for our future. We feel for the teenagers," said Frances Chan, 60, a retired journalist attending Sunday's rally.
She said only a few protesters had used violence, sparingly, brought on by pressure from the authorities.
"Actually, we want peace and freedom," she said.


Johnson the Brexit ‘Hulk’ finally meets EU’s Juncker

Updated 53 min 17 sec ago
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Johnson the Brexit ‘Hulk’ finally meets EU’s Juncker

  • Downing Street has confidently billed the Luxembourg visit as part of efforts to negotiate an orderly divorce from the union

LUXEMBOURG: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson met EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker for talks Monday insisting a Brexit deal is possible, despite deep skepticism from European capitals with just six weeks to go before departure day.
After a weekend in which he compared himself to comic book super-smasher Hulk, the British leader will enjoy a genteel working lunch of snails and salmon in Luxembourg with the EU Commission president.
Downing Street has confidently billed the Luxembourg visit as part of efforts to negotiate an orderly divorce from the union before an October 17 EU summit.
A UK spokesman said Johnson would tell Juncker that “progress has been made, given that before the summer recess many said reopening talks would not be possible.
“The UK needs to enact the referendum result and avoid another delay; the UK wants to deliver Brexit and move on to other priorities, and EU member states’ leaders want to renegotiate an orderly Brexit.”
But Brussels has played down talk of a breakthrough, insisting Johnson has yet to suggest any “legally operable” proposal to revise a previous withdrawal accord.
As he shook hands with Johnson, Juncker declared himself “cautiously optimistic” and insisted that “Europe never loses patience” despite the tortuous Brexit saga dragging on over three years.
Finland’s European affairs minister, Tytti Tuppurainen, who was chairing an EU ministerial meeting in Brussels, gave a more downbeat assessment, repeating the bloc’s long-standing complaint that London has simply not come up with detailed ideas for replacing the so-called “Irish backstop” section of the divorce deal.
“The European Union is always ready to negotiate when a proper proposal from the UK side is presented,” Tuppurainen said.
“So far I haven’t seen any proposal that would compensate the backstop.”
The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who joined the leaders for their talks in Juncker’s native Grand Duchy, said last week he has “no reason to be optimistic.”
The European Parliament will this week vote on a resolution rejecting Johnson’s demand that the backstop clause be stripped from the deal.
Johnson insists this measure, which temporarily keeps the UK in the EU customs union, has to go if he is to bring the agreement back to the House of Commons.
But the accord will also have to win the support of the other 27 EU leaders and the European Parliament if Britain is not to crash out with no deal on October 31 — a scenario that businesses warn would bring economic chaos.
Johnson, in turn, boasts that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask his European counterparts to postpone Brexit for a third time.
“Be in no doubt that if we cannot get a deal — the right deal for both sides — then the UK will come out anyway,” Johnson said, writing in the Daily Telegraph on Monday.
A UK spokesman said that Britain would refuse an extension even if one were offered.
It is difficult, then, to see what might come from the lunch. There is no plan for a joint statement, but Barnier will meet Britain’s Brexit minister Stephen Barclay for separate discussions.
Speaking to the BBC on Sunday, Barclay indicated that any post-Brexit transition period could be extended past 2020 in order to resolve issues with the border.
Johnson, meanwhile, compared himself to Marvel comics hero Hulk, the rampaging mutant alter-ego of a mild-mannered nuclear scientist.
“The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets and he always escaped, no matter how tightly bound in he seemed to be,” Johnson told the Mail on Sunday.
Johnson’s strategy faces resistance at home, where rebel and opposition MPs have passed a law aimed at forcing him to seek a Brexit delay.
Britain’s Supreme Court will rule this week on a bid to overturn Johnson’s decision to suspend parliament and limit time to debate the crisis.
Barnier will address the European Parliament session in Strasbourg on Wednesday as MEPs vote to reaffirm and reinforce the EU Brexit stance — and insist that the backstop must stay.
After his lunch with Juncker, Johnson is due to meet Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel. The pair will hold a joint news conference.