Wed, Oct 29, 2014 - Page 1 News List

Hong Kong democracy activists mark one month of the ‘umbrella revolution’


Pro-democracy protesters open their umbrellas to mark one month since they took the street in the Admiralty District of Hong Kong yesterday.

Photo: AFP

Hong Kong democracy activists yesterday marked one month of mass protests by unfurling a sea of umbrellas as student leaders called for direct talks with Beijing officials, the first time such a request has been made.

At an evening rally at the main protest camp, thousands raised umbrellas to mark the moment a month ago when police fired tear gas at largely peaceful crowds — beginning the most concerted challenge to Beijing since the bloody 1989 Tiananmen Square protests.

As protesters streamed into the site, Alex Chow (周永康) — president of leading protest group the Hong Kong Federation of Students — said he would seek a meeting with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (李克強) if the Hong Kong government failed to relay protesters’ demands to mainland authorities.

Parts of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory, an Asian financial hub, have been paralyzed by a month of mass rallies and roadblocks.

Protesters want China to rescind its decision in August that all candidates in elections for the territory’s leader in 2017 must be vetted by a loyalist committee — an arrangement demonstrators derided as “fake democracy.”

Talks between the government and student leaders last week made little headway. The government offered to write a report to Beijing on events since protests began and to set up a committee with demonstrators to discuss further constitutional reform, but Chow yesterday said any report must include a direct request from the territory authorities calling on mainland authorities to withdraw their August decision.

“If the Hong Kong government has difficulty meeting our demands, we sincerely hope that arrangements could be made for us to directly meet with Premier Li Keqiang as soon as possible,” Chow said.

It is the first time students have broadcast the idea of going straight to Beijing to negotiate.

Their request echoes the Tiananmen protests, when student leaders eventually met then-Chinese premier Li Peng (李鵬) for what turned out to be fruitless talks.

On June 3 and June 4 the movement was brutally crushed.

The protests have been dubbed the “umbrella revolution” following the creative ways demonstrators used them to shelter from the heat, torrential rain, pepper spray and police batons.

Yesterday’s rally opposite the territory’s government headquarters in Admiralty District started with an 87-second silence at 5:57pm. At that time on Sept. 28, riot police shot the first of 87 canisters of tear gas at crowds who had taken over a highway near government buildings.

That decision backfired, drawing tens of thousands of sympathizers onto the streets.

Protest leaders are also aware that the disruption caused by their roadblocks has sparked mounting public frustration.

Occupy’s co-founder and university professor Benny Tai (戴耀廷) said he planned to spend more time away from the protest sites and return to teaching, but insisted it was not a retreat.

However, many of those at the rally said they could not leave the streets until genuine democratic progress was made.

“We can’t retreat because we haven’t got anything yet,” 52-year-old computer programmer Any Ho said. “Democracy cannot be taken for granted. We have to be persistent for it to come.”

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