The new Hong Kong protest movement consciously draws on the insignia of the 2014 Rainbow Umbrella Movement. Despite its unsuccessful end, more than two months lasting blockade of the government district is still regarded by many young people as a moment of political awakening.
Tens of thousands of Hong Kong residents, most of them pupils and students, followed the appeal on Wednesday and barricaded the access roads to the Parliament and Government headquarters in the Admiralty district early in the morning. Their actions had immediate effect: Legislative Council was forced to postpone the planned debate on the extradition law, as many MPs failed to get through the crowd. At least, the demonstrators messed up the tight schedule that advocates of the law had enforced to say goodbye in record time next Thursday. The demonstrators are calling for the repeal of the bill, which would allow for the first time the extradition of suspects to the Chinese judiciary. In chants they chanted “Pull it back” and “No delivery to China”. Even on the wall of the People’s Liberation Army base in Hong Kong, someone had written the slogan “Battle of the Evil Law”.
The anger of the young protesters erupted into violence in the afternoon. After one of them had set the ultimatum for the repeal of the bill, some stones, bottles and umbrellas and metal bars threw at police officers, others tried to storm the Legislative Council buildings. These had been secured by helmets, shields and truncheons by a chain of security forces in protective gear since early morning. The police reacted with counter violence, used tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.
There were calls in social networks to occupy Parliament’s boardroom, as well as appeals to peacefully demonstrate alone. After the demonstrators had ignored a government call to free the streets around the government district for traffic at noon, the police fired tear gas cartridges into the crowd to disperse the blockade. Towards evening, riot police moved against the demonstrators and pushed them back from the parliamentary seat.
Obviously, the Hong Kong authorities are anxious to prevent a recurrence of the siege situation of 2014. With the images of violence, however, they risk further fueling popular opposition to the proposed law. Five years ago, the use of tear gas against young students had given broad support to the protest movement.
The 21-year-old student Cheung Chi-min proved to be combative in conversation. When asked if she feared that the protests could turn into violence, she said, “So what? We have been non-violent since the beginning of the Umbrella Movement, very rational and reserved. But the peaceful means are useless. Use force to fight violence. “Unlike 2014, one should not fail, Cheung said. Many of the young demonstrators spoke of “fear” for the future of their city and of defending Hong Kong’s values. A young man involved in the protests said, “The Hong Kong people have woken up after being deceived for years.” His 14-year-old sister added, “I do not want to regret later that I did not get up.”
Police chief Stephen Lo defended the use of tear gas and rubber bullets in a press conference. It was “riots,” he said. Lo warned those protesters who opposed the security forces by saying, “You may regret your decision all your life.” The organizers of the protest contradicted Lo in a message. There were no riots. The government bears sole responsibility for the violence.
Members of the pro-democracy camp have called on Prime Minister Carrie Lam to at least put the controversial law on ice to defuse the situation. MP Fernando Cheung prophesied, “If she pushes it and calls the police to use violence, I fear Hong Kong’s children will bleed.” The head of government spoke up in a television interview that evening. Visibly attacked by the events of the day, she broke her voice when she said she would never betray Hong Kong. Then Carrie Lam suggested being open for de-escalation. She said, “For the sake of Hong Kong, whether we retreat or move on, our cause is undoubtedly contentious. Explanations help, but I can not resolve all the fears, concerns, and controversies. “