Crowds at the main protest site in Hong Kong built quickly yesterday, with many thousands of pro-democracy protesters determined to crash or crash through today’s significant date – the 65th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.
Official fireworks planned to mark the anniversary have been cancelled and many of the predominantly youthful protesters fear the Hong Kong government will use the public holidays slated for today and tomorrow to break up the protests for good.
Eric Wong, a 24-year-old student in his fifth year of a Hong Kong law course, said: “I’m guessing the Hong Kong police have to ‘clear up’ the situation before that time. They cannot afford to let it go.”
Informal communication networks had been established, he added, so those on the ground could follow developments. Some protesters fear provocateurs will be sent in to the various protest sites to stir up trouble, to frighten supporters and give the police justification to storm in.
Protesters have readied themselves for the worst. Umbrellas have been lined up along concrete lane dividers, in case of need against pepper spray; face-masks and small towels are at hand in case of tear-gas.
Now mostly wearing black t-shirts, the protesters of the “Umbrella Revolution” – a description they have enthusiastically adopted – routinely recite the mantra of “non-violence” and “civil disobedience”. Combining the student protesters and others from the ‘Occupy Central’ pro-democracy group, they have taken to singing and chanting to get the message across.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s chief executive, CY Leung, yesterday refused to step down as protesters have demanded. “Occupy Central founders had said repeatedly that if the movement is getting out of control, they would call for it to stop,” he said. “I’m now asking them to fulfil the promise they made to society, and stop this campaign immediately.”
Eddie Yeung, a 21-year-old politics student, first joined the student protest to take a stand on Beijing’s refusal to allow the people of Hong Kong to choose their own chief executive. He is not happy with the proffered alternative of choosing among Beijing-approved candidates.
Yeung, too, believes Hong Kong’s authorities will pounce on any signs of disunity or aggression. “They’re not only waiting for us to get bored,” he said. “They’re waiting for us to get messy.”
He also fears the protest is too narrowly comprised: 95 per cent of the protesters are under-30. “This is not enough, whole generations must be involved,” he said.
The barrage of tear-gas aimed at the protesters on Sunday night and early Monday morning appears to have been a strategic error on the part of the police, who have since wound back their aggression. Many of the protesters, now numbering in the tens of thousands, saw the tear-gas as a call to action and flooded protest sites across Hong Kong.
Young and energetic, they now come and go at varying times, ensuring that fatigue and hunger don’t wear them down, and they are prepared for a long wait. Police say 89 protesters have been arrested so far, but many were released almost immediately.
Nicole Mok, 21, a design student at Hong Kong Polytechnic, had swimming goggles strung around her neck in case of tear-gas attack. “I’m here for democracy,” she said. “But first of all, I didn’t care about politics. Then the students were threatened. So many of us feel very angry about that. Arrests may be suitable sometimes, but the tear-gas – they’re not supposed to use tear-gas.