Hong Kong protesters reject leader's concession with new rallies

Saturday, September 07, 2019

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HONG KONG, China (AFP) — Thousands of Hong Kongers held rallies last night, rejecting calls by the city's pro-Beijing leader to end their movement as the finance hub braces for another weekend of clashes, including a plan to disrupt the airport.

Police fired brief volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets against a few hundred protesters who had gathered outside a police station in Mongkok district.

But a second, much larger rally in the heart of the city's commercial district remained peaceful.

Millions of pro-democracy supporters have taken to Hong Kong's streets for the past three months in the biggest challenge to China's rule since the city's handover from Britain in 1997.

On Wednesday, the city's unelected pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam surprised many by announcing she was scrapping a hugely unpopular extradition law that sparked the huge and sometimes violent rallies, a key demand of protesters that she and Beijing had previously refused to budge on.

She portrayed the move as a bid to de-escalate tensions and start a dialogue.

But it has been widely dismissed by protesters as a hollow gesture after more than 1,100 arrests and many facing lengthy jail sentences.

At the peaceful rally on Friday night in the city's commercial district, many protesters said they planned to continue hitting the streets.

“It's too late now, in these three months, a lot of people have sacrificed themselves and been arrested,” a retiree who gave his surname Cheng told AFP, bursting into tears as he spoke.

A 26-year-old protester called Justin who works in the business said the withdrawal of the bill was “three months late”.

“I think the most crucial thing now is the excessive use of police force and there are no legitimate measures to deal with it,” he said.

Protesters have said their movement will only end when other key demands are met such as an amnesty for those arrested, an inquiry into the police and universal suffrage, all of which Lam and Beijing have rejected.

Online messaging forums used by the largely leaderless movement have called for protesters to “stress test” the airport this afternoon, filling up with suggestions for how to disrupt the road and rail links leading to the terminals.

Last month hundreds of flights were cancelled over two days when huge crowds of protesters staged a sit-in at the airport, with ugly scenes as two men suspected of being Chinese spies were beaten.

Since then security has been ramped up around the sprawling hub — which lies on an artificial island west of the main city — and access to the terminals has been restricted to those with boarding passes.

But last Sunday protesters returned to the airport and showed they could still wreak havoc.

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