Hundreds of Hong Kong police officers forcibly removed kicking and screaming protesters from the Central business district yesterday, holdouts of a mass rally demanding greater democracy from the Chinese Communist Party rulers in Beijing.
The pro-democracy march on Tuesday, which organizers said attracted more than 510,000 people, and a subsequent sit-in by mainly student groups could be the biggest challenge yet to China, which resumed control over the former British colony on July 1, 1997.
Many of the more than 1,000 protesters linked arms in a bid to resist efforts to remove them, but they were taken away one at a time, in some cases by three or four police officers, as activists kicked, screamed and punched, before being bundled on to buses.
“I have the right to protest. We don’t need police permission,” the crowd chanted as they sat sweltering in Hong Kong’s summer heat and humidity.
Some remained defiant even after their arrest.
“Civil disobedience is not a one-time matter. I will come out to protest again, because it is the only way Hong Kong can change,” said To Chun Ho, who was released yesterday without being charged.
Activists who refused to leave were taken in buses to the police training school in Hong Kong. More than 500 people were arrested, with some charged with participating in an unauthorized assembly and obstructing police.
It was unclear how long they would be detained. About 50 were released without charge.
“Our purpose is first universal suffrage and second to let the government respond to Hong Kong citizens’ voice for democracy,” said Frank Chio (趙家輝), a representative of the Hong Kong Federation of Students. “This is only step one. There will be other steps.”
In one of the first moves of what is expected to be a hot political summer, the demonstrators were demanding greater democracy in elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017.
They want nominations to be open to everyone. China’s leaders want to ensure only pro-Beijing candidates are on the ballot.
Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997 with wide-ranging autonomy under an agreed formula of “one country, two systems.”
Anson Chan (陳方安生), the former head of Hong Kong’s civil service who served both before and after the handover, urged Britain to push China harder to meet its promises to Hong Kong.
“I would like Britain to speak up and say, hey, we are noticing what is happening, you cannot treat Hong Kong like this, you cannot walk away from your commitments,” Chan said yesterday. “And if you want to see stability and good governance in Hong Kong, we have to have a chief executive who has legitimacy.”