Violence poses conundrum to Hong Kong protest movement

19 Aug 2019 / 11:16 H.

HONG KONG: With a gas mask in her bag at Sunday’s peaceful rally, Hong Kong protester Kelly said she disagreed with the violence which has enveloped her city, but refused to disown the more radical elements of the pro-democracy movement.

“Even though I want the protests to remain peaceful, we will still support each other,“ said the 26-year-old from behind a black face mask. “We won’t be divided.”

Hong Kong has tumbled into a cycle of violence as the protests, initially against a proposed law that would have allowed extradition to China, transformed into a wider, angrier pro-democracy campaign.

Clashes with police have escalated, leaving protesters bloodied and officers under a barrage of rocks, with blame traded between the sides for sparking the street violence.

Suspicion swills through a protest group hardened by the weeks of tear-gas infused action and driven by anger over alleged police brutality and apparent infiltration of the crowds.

Beijing has seized on the unrest, with state media pumping out articles, pictures and videos damning the protesters.

The violence poses a conundrum for a protest movement that started as a peaceful kickback against the extradition bill but is now ranged against an intransigent Hong Kong government and a police force which defends its use of baton charges, tear gas rounds and rubber bullets as “proportionate”.

“I don’t like the violence (of the radical protesters), I am against it,“ said Wong, a 54-year-old retired teacher who gave one name like many protesters. “But I understand them, they’re angry, infuriated.”

‘Moral high ground’

Sunday’s mass demonstration on the city’s rain-slicked streets was billed as a chance for pro-democracy campaigners to reclaim credibility after criticism over the unrest. Organisers the Civil Human Rights Front said the rally drew more than 1.7 million people.

Francis, 24, said keeping the peace on Sunday “would give us the moral high ground.”

Protesters warned against splintering into camps — for and against violent actions — fearing disunity would play into Beijing’s hands.

“China is trying to turn people against each other — turning the more violent protesters against the peaceful protesters, turning police against citizens,“ a protester called Kenny said.

“They want people to pick sides and to some extent it’s working.”

Many said Sunday’s turnout — the largest in weeks — was an endorsement of the movement, irrespective of the violence that now swirls across the city.

“I don’t think we can accomplish our goals using only one tactic,“ said one protester, requesting anonymity.

“If (the government) doesn’t respond and we start using other methods, then they can’t say we are going out and destroying stuff of our own volition... it’s only because we have no other choice.”

In the shopping district of Causeway Bay two friends said they had tussled over whether to join the rally given the increasingly hot-headed atmosphere, but ultimately came out to show support for the pro-democracy cause.

“We might not all have the same idea of how to achieve our demands... but we are all still here together,“ said one student protester. — AFP

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