HONG KONG– Vast crowds of black-clad demonstrators thronged Hong Kong on Sunday in the largest anti-government protests since local elections last month that boosted the pro-democracy movement seeking to curb controls by China.
It was the first time since August that the Civil Human Rights Front – organizer of million-strong marches earlier in the year that paralyzed the Asian finance center – had received authorities’ permission for a rally.
It estimated turnout of 800,000 while police said 183,000.
Chants of “Fight for freedom! Stand with Hong Kong!” echoed as demonstrators, from students to professionals and the elderly, marched from Victoria Park in the bustling shopping district toward the financial area.
As dark fell, some protesters spray-painted anti-Beijing graffiti on a Bank of China building. Riot police stood on guard, restrained as protesters yelled “dogs” and “cockroaches.”
The former British colony of 7.4 million people reverted to Chinese rule in 1997. It is governed under a “One Country, Two Systems” formula guaranteeing freedoms not allowed in mainland China, but many fear Beijing is tightening the screws.
“It’s Christmas time soon but we’re not in the mood to celebrate anymore,” said Lawrence, a 23-year-old student.
He held a poster saying: “My 2020 wish is universal suffrage”, a reference to demands for an open vote on the city leader, currently the unpopular Beijing-backed Carrie Lam.
China blames the six months of unrest on interference by foreign governments including the United States and Britain.
On Saturday, two leaders of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong were denied entry to the neighboring Chinese city of Macau, without explanation.