Hong Kong protesters throng streets as government urges calm

Authorities gave the green light to Civil Human Rights Front to hold the rally, the first time the group has been granted permission for a protest since Aug. 18. (AFP))
Updated 08 December 2019

Hong Kong protesters throng streets as government urges calm

  • March comes two weeks after pro-establishment parties got a drubbing in local elections
  • Millions have hit the streets in protests fueled by years of growing fears that China is stamping out the city’s liberties

HONG KONG: Thousands of black-clad protesters from all walks of life thronged the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday in a sign of broad support for anti-government demonstrations that have roiled the Chinese-ruled city for six months.

With chants of, “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong,” anti-government activists, young and old, marched from Victoria Park in the bustling shopping district of Causeway Bay to Chater Road near the heart of the financial district.

Authorities gave the green light to Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) — organizer of largely peaceful million-strong marches in June — to hold the rally, the first time the group has been granted permission for a protest since Aug. 18.

“I will fight for freedom until I die because I am a Hong Konger,” said June, a 40-year-old mother dressed in black seated on the grass in Victoria Park. “Today is about standing with Hong Kong, and the international community.”

The former British colony is governed under a “One Country, Two Systems” formula that guarantees freedoms not allowed in mainland China, but many fear Beijing is tightening the screws on the city and increasingly meddling in its affairs.

Beijing denies meddling, has condemned the unrest and blamed foreign governments, including the United States and former colonial power Britain, of interfering in the country’s internal affairs.

Echoes of “five demands, not one less” echoed through the streets, referring to protesters’ calls for universal suffrage in choosing the city’s leader, among other demands.

Police said earlier on Sunday they had arrested 11 people, aged 20 to 63 and seized weapons including army knives, firecrackers, 105 bullets and a semi-automatic pistol, the first seizure of a handgun in six months of protests.

Roads that would normally be jammed with traffic on a Sunday near the heart of the city were empty, as a snaking crowd that included young families, students, professionals and the elderly clogged the streets of the Asian financial hub.

The violence in six months of demonstrations has escalated as protesters have torched vehicles and buildings, hurled petrol bombs at police, dropped debris from bridges onto traffic below and vandalized shopping malls, while police have responded with tear, gas, water cannon and, at times, live fire.

The large turnout on Sunday signaled still broad support for the anti-government demonstrations despite the escalating unrest in a city where violence is rare.

The protest comes two weeks after democratic candidates secured almost 90 percent of 452 district council seats in local elections that saw a record turnout, posing a fresh conundrum for Beijing and piling pressure on Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam.

The protests intensified in June over a now-shelved extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial, but have now evolved into broader calls for democracy, among other demands.

In a statement on Saturday, the government appealed for calm and said it has “learned its lesson and will humbly listen to and accept criticism.”

Hong Kong’s new police commissioner, Chris Tang, said his force would take a flexible approach to demonstrations, using “both the hard and soft approach.”

The former British colony has been rocked by more than 900 demonstrations, processions and public meetings since June, with many ending in violent confrontations between protesters and police, who have responded at times with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Demonstrators are angry at what they perceive are more curbs on freedoms promised to Hong Kong when the then British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The chairman and president of the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Hong Kong were separately denied entry to the neighboring Chinese-ruled city of Macau on Saturday after being detained by immigration officials.

Hong Kong has enjoyed relative calm since local elections on Nov. 24 delivered an overwhelming victory to pro-democracy candidates.

Nearly 6,000 people have been arrested in the protests since June, more than 30 percent aged between 21 and 25.


Japan to declare coronavirus emergency, launch $990 billion stimulus

Updated 6 min 39 sec ago

Japan to declare coronavirus emergency, launch $990 billion stimulus

  • More than 3,500 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Japan and 85 have died
  • Numbers keep rising with particular alarm over the spread in Tokyo, which has more than 1,000 cases
TOKYO: Japan is to impose a state of emergency in Tokyo and six other prefectures as early as Tuesday to try to stop the coronavirus, the prime minister said, with the government preparing a $990 billion stimulus package to soften the economic blow.
More than 3,500 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Japan and 85 have died — not a huge outbreak compared with some hot spots. But the numbers keep rising with particular alarm over the spread in Tokyo, which has more than 1,000 cases, including 83 new ones on Monday.
“Given the state of crisis on the medical front, the government was advised to prepare to declare the state of emergency,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters.
An emergency, which Abe said would last about a month, will give governors authority to call on people to stay at home and businesses to close, but will not be as restrictive as lockdowns in some other countries.
In most cases, there will be no penalties for ignoring requests to stay at home, and enforcement will rely more on peer pressure and respect for authority.
Pressure had been mounting on the government to take the step although Abe had voiced concern about being too hasty, given the restrictions on movement and businesses it would entail.
Abe also said the government has decided to launch a stimulus package of about 108 trillion yen, including more than 6 trillion yen for cash payouts to households and small businesses and 26 trillion yen to allow deferred social security and tax payments.
It was not immediately clear how much of that package would be new government spending.
“The government wants to help businesses continue and protect jobs,” Abe said.
An emergency appears to have public support. In a poll published on Monday by JNN, run by broadcaster TBS, 80 percent of those surveyed said Abe should declare it while 12 percent said it was not necessary. His approval rating fell by 5.7 points from last month to 43.2 percent, the survey showed.
But Kenji Shibuya, director of the Institute for Public Health at King’s College, London, said the emergency was too late given the explosive increase in cases in Tokyo.
“It should have been declared by April 1 at the latest,” he said.
Sounding an alarm over the high rate of cases that could not be traced, Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike indicated last week that she would favor a state of emergency as a way to help her urge residents to abide by stronger social-distancing measures.
An expert on the government’s coronavirus panel said Japan could avoid an explosive rise by reducing person-to-person contact by 80 percent.
Under a law revised in March to cover the coronavirus, the prime minister can declare a state of emergency if the disease poses a “grave danger” to lives and if its rapid spread could have a big impact on the economy.
Economy Minister Yasutoshi Nishimura called for calm saying there was no need for people in designated prefectures to flee to other regions, which could spread infections, NHK reported.
While Japan’s coronavirus epidemic is dwarfed by the 335,000 infections and more than 9,500 deaths in the United States alone, experts worry a sudden surge could overwhelm Japan’s medical system.
Abe must seek formal advice from a panel of experts before deciding to go ahead and declare the emergency.
Governors in Tokyo and elsewhere have asked citizens to stay home on weekends, avoid crowds and evening outings, and work from home. That has had some effect, but not as much as many experts said was needed.