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HK's peaceful march is win-win for protesters and police

EVIDENTLY stung by the passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act by the United States, the Hong Kong government has made a multi-barrelled response: denied that human rights have been eroded, granted permission for a mass rally on Sunday, marked internationally as Human Rights Day, and castigated political figures who "urged foreign governments or legislatures to interfere with the affairs" of Hong Kong.

In a statement marking Human Rights Day, the government declared the "great importance" it attaches to "its constitutional duty to safeguard and protect human rights and freedoms". It also called for an end to violence, saying that the government hoped "all sectors of the community could work together to restore order in society as soon as possible".

The Sunday rally was organised by Civil Human Rights Front, the same organisation that had organised two massive marches in June, when a million or more people took part. It was the first time police had given the group permission to hold a protest since Aug 18.

Much was riding on the outcome of this demonstration, the first since pro-establishment parties were badly trounced in district council elections last month. There was much trepidation that the peaceful march would end in violence, as so many demonstrations had in recent months. The front assigned 200 marshals to ensure that protesters adhered to the route agreed with the police and to maintain order.

In the end, it was a victory for both sides, the protesters and the police. Organisers said that 800,000 people had taken part and a government statement issued on Sunday night agreed.

"It was in general peaceful and orderly," the government said, adding: "Today's procession as well as the 50,000 public assemblies and processions held in Hong Kong over the past five years are testimony to the freedom of peaceful assembly, of procession, of demonstration and of speech enjoyed by the people."

At 8.15 pm, when all demonstrators had completed the march, the organisers ended the rally early and asked marchers to go home. Some who were prepared for combat were also persuaded to leave.

On Friday, the government issued a highly unusual statement denouncing legislators and other political figures who had "urged foreign governments or legislatures to interfere with the affairs" of Hong Kong.

"Some politicians in Hong Kong openly supported the United States' 'Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act', and suggested similar legislation in other countries or regions with the intent to demand foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs," the statement asserted. "This only conveys the wrong message to violent protesters and misleads them into thinking they have gained the support from other countries or regions. These politicians must bear the responsibility for society descending into chaos."

No individuals were identified but several pro-democracy activists recently flew to Australia and met politicians there.

One of them, legislator Jeremy Tam, who grew up in Australia, said it was up to that country whether to create legislation to support the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and that all the visitors could do was to "present a case".

Chief Executive Carrie Lam continues her hardline stance of no concessions but even her supporters appear to be deserting her.

Felix Chung, leader of the pro-establishment Liberal Party, has thrown his party's weight behind some of the protesters' demands.

On RTHK, the public broadcaster, he called for three actions, "The first being the establishment of an independent inquiry which I see as the bare minimum," he said. "The second being the restructuring of the government in order to direct accountability for those responsible for the crisis. The third action is to think about starting the conversation of political reform."

Starry Lee, chair of the main pro-establishment party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, castigated senior members of the Carrie Lam administration during a motion debate on whether to start impeachment proceedings against the chief executive. However, her party voted against the motion.

Jimmy Sham, convenor of the front, in calling on marchers to disperse, also called on the chief executive to respond to their demands, in particular the one to set up an independent Commission of Inquiry into the role of the police in the protests over the last six months. Despite a peaceful march by 800,000 people, she has again refused to respond.

This calls to mind a remark made by Jasper Tsang, former president of the legislature and a staunch member of the pro-establishment camp. In a recently published interview, he said that the Carrie Lam government "is unwilling to do anything until it is too late".