Tue, Sep 10, 2019 - Page 6 News List

‘Grandpa’ protesters speak softly, carry canes

‘PROTECT THE CHILDREN’:Senior citizens showing up during weekend protests try to mediate between police and demonstrators, and shield young people

AFP, HONG KONG

“Grandpa Wong,” center, shields younger protesters from the police by holding his walking stick up along with other “silver hair” volunteers wearing yellow vests in the Tung Chung district in Hong Kong during a demonstration on Sept. 7.

Photo: AFP

“Grandpa Wong” holds a cane above his head as he pleads with riot police to stop firing tear gas — an 85-year-old shielding protesters on the front lines of Hong Kong’s fight for democracy.

Despite his age, Wong is a regular sight at Hong Kong’s street battles, hobbling toward police lines, placing himself in between riot officers and hardcore protesters, hoping to de-escalate what have now become near daily clashes.

“I’d rather they kill the elderly than hit the youngsters,” he said during a recent series of skirmishes in the shopping district of Causeway Bay, a gas mask dangling from his chin. “We’re old now, but the children are the future of Hong Kong.”

The three months of huge, sometimes violent pro-democracy protests in the territory are overwhelmingly youth-led. Research by academics has shown that half of those on the streets are between 20 and 30 years old, while 77 percent have degrees.

However, the movement maintains widespread support across the public with lawyers, doctors, nurses, teachers and civil servants all holding recent solidarity rallies, even as the violence escalates.

Groups of elderly people — dubbed “silver hairs” — have also marched, but Wong and his friend “Grandpa Chan,” a comparatively spry 73-year-old, are among the most pro-active of this older generation.

The two are part of a group called “Protect the Children,” made up of mostly senior citizens and volunteers. Almost every weekend, they come out to try to mediate between police and demonstrators, as well as buy protesters time when the cops start to charge.

As another volley of tear gas bounded down a boulevard in Causeway Bay — a street lined with luxury malls and fashion retailers — Chan gripped Wong’s hand tightly, stopping his old comrade from rushing back into the crossfire.

“If we die, we die together,” yelled Chan, who eschews helmets and instead always wears an eye-catching red hat daubed with slogans.

While “Protect the Children” turn up primarily to defend the youth, Wong said he tries to warn protesters not to provoke police.

“It’s wrong to throw stones, that’s why the police beat them up,” he said. “I hope that police won’t hit them and the children won’t throw stuff back.”

“Everyone should stay peaceful to protect the core values of Hong Kong,” he added.

As Hong Kong’s summer of rage has worn on the violence on both sides has only escalated. Each weekend has brought increasingly violent bouts, with a minority of black-clad protesters using Molotov cocktails, slingshots and bricks.

Police have also upped their violence, deploying water cannons and resorting to tear gas and rubber bullets with renewed ferocity.

More than 1,100 people have been arrested, ranging from children as young as 12 to a man in his mid-70s. Many are facing charges of rioting which carry 10 years in jail.

Fears have risen for the fate for one veteran protester Alexandra Wong — known as “Grandma Wong” — who attended dozens of protests waving a large British flag.

She lives in Shenzhen, but has not been seen at the protests since the middle of last month when she appeared in videos looking injured after clashes with police inside a subway station.

Grandpa Wong said he understands why youngsters feel they have no choice but to protest.

He has watched over the decades as China has grown more wealthy and powerful whilst remaining avowedly authoritarian.

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