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Hong Kong protesters take their message to Chinese tourists
[HONG KONG] Protesters held another march in Hong Kong on Sunday, the first major action since a small group of demonstrators broke into the city's legislature last Monday in a dramatic escalation of recent tensions.
It was the latest in a series of protests that have roiled Hong Kong since the city's leaders tried to push through a contentious bill that would allow extradition to mainland China. The protests, which organisers say have drawn up to 2 million people, have been mostly peaceful, apart from a few violent confrontations between police officers and demonstrators.
Organisers said about 230,000 turned out for Sunday's protests. Police said the turnout was 56,000 at its peak.
Tensions culminated last week when an offshoot group of young protesters smashed their way into a legislative building and ransacked the premises, as hundreds of thousands of people marched peacefully in a concurrent protest elsewhere in the city.
Late Sunday night, the police and dozens of protesters clashed in the Mong Kok District a couple of hours after the march nearby had ended, leading to five arrests. The demonstrators sought to occupy a major road, but the police declared it an unlawful assembly and began warning protesters to leave. Officers with batons, shields and helmets then began clearing out the crowd. At least one man was seen being taken away by the police.
Though the extradition bill has been suspended, the protesters' demands have broadened to include a call for more democratic reforms such as universal suffrage, in addition to a full withdrawal of the bill, an independent inquiry into police violence toward protesters and amnesty for the protesters.
Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese territory, has a separate political and judicial system and is governed based on a principle known as "one country, two systems". But in recent years, as Beijing has grown more autocratic and increased efforts to integrate Hong Kong with the mainland, many here have become alarmed about the erosion of the city's once-robust protections for civic freedoms and rule of law.
While previous marches have been held in the downtown financial and business districts of Hong Kong Island, the march Sunday is the first to take place in Kowloon, an area of Hong Kong that is attached to the Chinese mainland. It is being billed as an opportunity to engage with mainland Chinese in the hope that they will back the protesters.
The Hong Kong protests have been heavily censored in the mainland, where they are portrayed by government officials and the state news media as being organised by "foreign forces" and spearheaded by violent "extreme radicals".
Josie Kwok, 18, said she saw the protest Sunday as an opportunity to reset the tone following the clashes last week.
"I think the most important thing today is for the protests to be peaceful," she said. "We want to show mainlanders that Hong Kong isn't China, and we want to show other Hong Kongers and the world that we are peaceful so we can gain their support."
The march began in the late afternoon in Tsim Sha Tsui, a shopping area popular with mainland Chinese tourists, and ended at the West Kowloon railway station, which is the terminus of a high-speed line to the Chinese city of Guangzhou. In addition to the five arrested during the nighttime clashes, another person was arrested during the protest for failing to produce identification.
Mainland tourists, many carrying shopping bags, watched and took photographs as the protesters marched past designer stores.
Sunny Yang, 37, a mainlander who has lived in Hong Kong for nine years, said she had always felt somewhat "awkward" about the protests, which have at times taken on an anti-China tone. But seeing the scale and largely peaceful nature of the protests this time around, she said, left her feeling quite "positive."
"It doesn't really affect us, but it's a very big issue for these young people," she said as she gestured toward the protesters. "I think the local government should really listen to the people."
Liu Xiao, 28, came to Hong Kong from Chongqing with friends to do some shopping. She had heard about the protests, but said she thought the extradition bill was "justifiable."
"If people have committed crimes, they shouldn't be allowed to dodge the law," she said.
Opponents of the bill fear that it could be used to send political dissidents for trial in mainland China, where the courts are controlled by the ruling Communist Party.
Seeing the protest Sunday was "shocking" for Liu Li, 22, who runs a small baking company in the southern Chinese city of Jiujiang and was visiting Hong Kong for the first time.
"We would never be allowed to do something like this in the mainland," she said. "Even if 100 people gather together, they would get detained."