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Thousands of HK civil servants rally; further wave of protests planned across territory
THOUSANDS of Hong Kong civil servants rallied on Friday night to support protesters and urge authorities to rebuild confidence in the government as escalating protests rock the Asian financial hub.
The rally is the first time government employees have promoted a demonstration in Hong Kong. The civil servants assembled peacefully with protesters in the heart of the business district, many in black masks to hide their identity. "I think the government should respond to the demands, instead of pushing the police to the frontline as a shield," said Kathy Yip, a 26-year-old government worker.
Police said they had arrested eight people, including a leading pro-independence leader, after seizing weapons and suspected bomb-making material in a raid. Another wave of protests is planned across Hong Kong this weekend, along with a mass strike on Monday across sectors such as transport, schools and corporates that could bring the city to a standstill.
The protests in Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to China in 1997, pose one of the gravest populist challenges to Communist Party rulers in Beijing.
The protests against a now suspended extradition bill, which would have seen people sent for trial in mainland courts controlled by the Communist Party, widened to demand greater democracy and the resignation of Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam.
Under Chinese rule Hong Kong has been allowed to retain extensive freedoms, such as an independent judiciary, but many residents see the extradition bill as the latest step in a relentless march towards mainland control. "At present, the people of Hong Kong are already on the verge of collapse," a group of civil servants said in an open letter to Ms Lam. "Hong Kong has always been well behaved and enjoys a high degree of freedom. It is a pity that we have seen extreme oppression..." It asked Ms Lam to respond positively to five public demands: complete withdrawal of the extradition bill; a halt to descriptions of the protests as "rioting"; a waiver of charges against those arrested; an independent inquiry and resumption of political reforms.
The city's 180,000 civil servants must remain politically neutral, the government said on Thursday. "At this difficult moment, government colleagues have to stay united and work together to uphold the core values of the civil service," it said in a statement. Hundreds of medical workers also demonstrated on Friday to protest against the government's handling of the situation. REUTERS