HONG KONG (AA) – Tens of thousands of Hong Kongers are defying the government and attending pro-democracy rallies, with crowds continuing to increase.
At the two main protest sites – in Admiralty and Mong Kok districts – at 8 p.m. Sunday, an upbeat atmosphere prevailed – in stark contrast to earlier in the day when scuffles broke out between protestors and people who some saw as agitators working on behalf of Beijing.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has said that the protest areas have to be cleared by Monday, but an Anadolu Agency correspondent at the scene said that the number of protesters appeared to be growing.
For nine days, demonstrators have occupied major streets in Hong Kong, in an effort to force Leung — seen by many as a stooge of China — to resign and allow the territory to choose its own leader by universal suffrage.
Police have fired tear gas and used pepper spray to clear protest sites, while a notorious gang of Hong Kong gangsters – triads – has been accused of attacking protests and sowing disharmony on behalf of Beijing.
Police were accused of standing by and doing little to stop the attacks, in some cases arresting then quickly releasing instigators who soon renewed their assaults.
Since the pepper spray attacks, the movement has been dubbed the “umbrella revolution” because protesters have en-masse used umbrellas to shield themselves.
In August, Chinese leaders ruled that while Hong Kongers could choose their next chief executive in the 2017 elections, the candidates would have to be approved by Beijing first.
Hong Kong — an international financial center — was a British colony from 1842 to 1997.
Last Monday, a spokesman for China’s Foreign Ministry, Hua Chunying, said: “Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong. Hong Kong is purely our internal affair.”
The non-violent movement is seen as the biggest challenge to Chinese rule in the territory since Beijing resumed sovereignty in 1997.
Some observers worry that if the protests persist and Hong Kong police again fail to disperse the demonstrators, the Chinese military — known as the People’s Liberation Army — could be ordered to intervene.
That scenario revives memories of the killing of student protesters in Tiananmen Square, in the heart of Beijing, in June 1989. The 1989 movement, initiated by students to push for a democratic China, ended when the military shot dead hundreds of people, perhaps more than 1,000.
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