Largest Hong Kong Protest in Months Draws at Least 800,000 People and Stretches Miles

A sea of protesters, spread across several miles, filled major thoroughfares.
Credit…Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Hundreds of thousands of protesters, basking in a recent election victory by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, poured onto the city’s streets on Sunday in one of the largest marches in weeks to pressure the government to meet demands for greater civil liberties.

The huge turnout was a reminder to China’s leader, Xi Jinping, that the monthslong campaign against his authoritarian policies still had broad support in Hong Kong despite a weakening economy and increasingly violent clashes between protesters and the police.

Tensions in Hong Kong, a semiautonomous territory, had eased somewhat in recent days, after pro-democracy advocates won a stunning victory in local elections two weeks ago, giving new hope to the movement.

On Sunday, demonstrators returned in force, packing city streets to denounce Mr. Xi’s government, rail against police brutality and reiterate demands for greater civil liberties, including universal suffrage. They beat drums, sang protest anthems and chanted, “Fight for freedom.” Though the march was largely peaceful, some demonstrators vandalized shops and restaurants and lit a fire outside the high court.

“We want Hong Kong to continue being Hong Kong,” said Alice Wong, 24, a biology researcher who stood among protesters gathered at Victoria Park. “We don’t want to become like China.”

As many as 800,000 people attended the march, according to Civil Human Rights Front, an advocacy group that organized the gathering.

The mood at the march was relaxed, with people taking selfies against a backdrop of the vast crowds. Children, some dressed in black, marched with their parents, holding hands as they shouted, “Stand with Hong Kong!”

A sea of protesters, spread across several miles, filled major thoroughfares as they moved between towering skyscrapers. In some areas, there were so many people that the crowds moved at a snail’s pace and spilled into adjacent alleys. Some small businesses encouraged the turnout by promising giveaways if more than one million people joined the march.

The protesters said they intended to remain peaceful on Sunday, but some vowed to use more aggressive tactics if the police cracked down. In the evening, the police readied canisters of tear gas as they stood opposite crowds of protesters who had barricaded a street downtown in a briefly tense moment.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Javier C. Hernández and Elaine Yu