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Thousands rally to commemorate 2014 Hong Kong protests

The move came as prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong announced his intention to stand for local elections in November.

A protestor wearing a mask raises his hand at Tamar Park in Hong Kong (AP)
A protestor wearing a mask raises his hand at Tamar Park in Hong Kong (AP)

By Associated Press Reporters

Thousands of people have gathered for a rally in the centre of Hong Kong to mark the fifth anniversary of the start of the 2014 Umbrella protest movement which called for democratic reforms in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

The rally at Tamar Park by the Civil Human Rights Front was approved by police, but security was tight, with barriers blocking access to government offices and the Legislative Council building which was previously stormed by protesters in July.

Demonstrators unfurled a banner which read: “We are back” on a footbridge to the government office.

Walls along a staircase leading to the bridge were filled with posters in a throwback to 2014, when protesters occupied key thoroughfares in the same area for 79 days but failed to win any government concessions.

Before the rally started, a small group of black-clad protesters wearing goggles and masks attempted to scale barricades outside the government offices, prompting riot police behind the barriers to fire pepper spray.

The protesters retreated but soon returned, heckling police and thumping metal fencing. Police used pepper spray again, and the scene repeated several times. Some journalists were hit by the spray.

Earlier on Saturday, activist Joshua Wong – who played a key role as a youth leader in the 2014 protests – announced plans to contest district council elections in November.

Mr Wong, 22, said the vote is crucial to send a message to Beijing that the people are more determined than ever to win the battle for more rights.

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A campaign poster of Mr Wong in Hong Kong (AP)

He told a news conference: “Five years ago, we claimed that we will be back and now we are back with even stronger determination.

“The battle ahead is the battle for our home and our homeland.”

Mr Wong, who has been arrested and jailed several times in the course of his campaign, said he is aware that he could be disqualified.

Members of the Demosisto party that he co-founded in 2016 have in the past been disqualified from serving and running for office because they advocate self-determination.

Mr Wong said: “If they disqualify me, it will just generate more and more momentum … they will pay the price.”

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The Lady Liberty statue, depicting a protestor, at Tamar Park (AP)

He is out on bail after he was rearrested with several other people last month and charged with organising an illegal rally.

This did not stop him from going to the US, Germany and Taiwan to drum up support for the current protest movement, which started in June over an extradition bill but has since snowballed into an anti-China campaign.

The now-shelved bill, which would have sent some criminal suspects for trial in mainland China, is seen as a jarring example of China’s intrusion into the city’s autonomy.

Mr Wong’s activities have made him a target of the Chinese government, which has used him to accuse foreign powers of colluding with anti-China separatists to foment unrest.

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Thousands of people have taken to the streets in what has become a weekly event in Hong Kong (AP)

He said that the government tried to frame prominent activists such as himself as a warning to other protesters, but that it would fail because the current movement has no centralised figureheads.

As well as Saturday’s rally in the city centre, protesters are also planning global “anti-totalitarianism” rallies on Sunday in Hong Kong and more than 60 other cities worldwide to denounce what they called “Chinese tyranny”.

The biggest worry for the government is on Tuesday. Protesters plan a major march, sparking fears of a bloody showdown that could embarrass China’s ruling Communist Party as it marks its 70th year in power with grand festivities in Beijing. Pro-Beijing groups have also vowed to take to the streets

Police have banned the march, but protesters have in the past turned up anyway. Hong Kong’s government has toned down National Day celebrations, cancelling an annual firework display and moving a reception indoors.

Separately, American academic Dan Garrett, who testified at a US congressional hearing with Mr Wong on September 18, said he had been denied entry into Hong Kong on Thursday due to “unspecified immigration reasons”.

He tweeted that it was the first time he was barred after having visited and lived in Hong Kong for two decades.

Mr Garrett and other speakers spoke about the weakening of Hong Kong’s autonomy as some US congressmen sought to push through a bill to support the democracy movement.

PA

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