Hong Kong people returned en-masse to peaceful protest as more than million marched through the rain on Sunday evening, defying Beijing’s label of the democracy movement as rioters.
One of the organisers, the Civil Human Rights Front’s Jimmy Sham, said 1.7 million people had taken part in the march that ended at 9pm.
Hong Kong people took to the city streets on Sunday in defiance of a police ban and despite heavy rain to show Carrie Lam’s government that their anger had not waned
Lam’s government issued a statement in response to the march, saying “the Government will begin sincere dialogue with the public, mend social rifts and rebuild social harmony when everything has calmed down”.
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The statement acknowledged the march was generally peaceful but had impacted traffic.
For the first time, police had refused to authorise a march from Victoria Park to the city – the route of earlier, million-strong marches.
But crowds soon spilled out of Victoria Park and subway stations closed as trains were packed to capacity. So an illegal two-way march through the city was formed: tens of thousands queuing down Hennessy Road in the rain for their chance to go to Victoria Park hours after the rally started.
When asked why, they responded “freedom”.
Tens of thousands more leaving Victoria Park marched the other way towards Central.
In contrast to violent scenes at Hong Kong airport on Tuesday as flights were suspended when the terminal was occupied by young protesters, Sunday’s march was peaceful. By 5.45pm there was no sign of police on the streets.
“We are against the violence by the police last Sunday,” said Wendy, 37, of why she was marching.
Police had fired tear gas inside a subway station last week after chasing protesters, and a first aid volunteer was allegedly hit in the eye by a police bean bag round, losing her sight.
This concerned her more than the airport disruptions by democracy protesters.
“I was in Japan and my flight was delayed. I spent another night in Japan,” she said.
“It is important the protesters apologised. They are totally mature.”
She said she was worried about the video footage of Chinese armed police holding drills in Shenzhen across the border, but this highlighted why people should come out and exercise their freedom of speech.
Ray, 32, said he didn’t believe China would send troops because Hong Kong was ruled under a separate system.
“I don’t think they will come across the border,” he said.
Jackie, in her 50s, said she came because it might be the last chance to protest.
“Our freedom of expression is threatened. This time it is already illegal. But if we don’t come out today who knows what will happen. We still have to fight for Hong Kong.”
Lam, 40, said the government wasn’t listening to the people.
“I am also against violence, but the chief executive Carrie Lam isn’t doing her job,” he said.
After nightfall many thousands of protesters continued to walk through the city streets, most without the masks or helmets that have typified the protest movement.
A younger crowd stopped off at Admiralty to shine purple, green and blue laser pens on the stark government offices.
The light show was satirical, after the arrest of a student a fortnight ago for buying laser pens.
The lasers have been used previously to dazzle police by protesters and blind security cameras.
“Police claim these lasers are powerful enough to burn skin so we are trying to burn down the government,” said a student, after demonstrating on his arm that it didn’t hurt his skin.
Police nonetheless had begun to wear sunglasses with their riot gear at the weekend to protect their eyes.
There were few police on the streets on Sunday night by 8pm.
The call had gone out for a peaceful show of support for the protest movement after Beijing had cast recent clashes, and “flash mob” tactics by a small group of protesters, as “riots” and “close to terrorism”.
Parents pushing children in prams, the elderly and unmasked residents returned to the streets. On Saturday, thousands of teachers had marched to Government House.
But police refused to allow a march through the city on Sunday. The huge numbers were too large to be contained in Victoria Park, the only authorised protest site.
Beijing has threatened that it is prepared to send in People’s Armed Police from the mainland if violence escalates.
But Hong Kong police told media this week they believed they were capable of handling the protests, which continued after 11 weeks.