Hong Kong protesters pray, gird for unauthorized rally

Tuesday, 22 Oct, 2019

Police fired water cannon and tear gas at Hong Kongers who defied authorities with an illegal march on Sunday, their numbers swollen by anger over the recent stabbing and beating of two pro-democracy protesters.

Police had prohibited the march in the city's Kowloon district due to public safety concerns, and a court said the destination of the march - the main rail interchange with mainland China - was at risk of being attacked and vandalized.

It's a sign that this movement, which has now been going for almost five months, is not going away.

In a familiar pattern, the huge rally began peacefully.

Protesters tossed firebombs and took their anger out on shops with mainland Chinese ties as they skirmished late into the evening with riot police, who unleashed numerous tear gas rounds on short notice, angering residents and passers-by.

Hong Kong riot police sprayed a mosque gate, along people attempting to guard the mosque, with a water cannon while trying to contain pro-democracy demonstrations, Monday, October 21. Police have used the dye to identify protesters.

Volunteers later arrived to assist clear up, and by Monday morning the blue coating was largely gone.

But it has so far avoided direct intervention, a strategy that analysts say is based on trying to limit damage to its worldwide image and hoping the protests will eventually peter out.

Police ordered protesters to disperse, at one stage rushing them and detaining one person.

Tens of thousands of people turned out earlier in the day to protest following a hammer attack on Jimmy Sham, convenor of march organizers the Civil Human Rights Front, last week. "If we stayed silent, the government would continue to walk all over us", 50-year-old protester Giggs Wan said before the march. Police have arrested more than 2,300 people.

In an attempt to discourage protesters, Lam recently used an emergency law to ban face masks, which many protesters use to shield their identity from the omnipresent surveillance cameras, but many weren't cowed.

Chan is wanted by Taiwanese authorities for allegedly killing his girlfriend during a trip to the self-ruled island past year but wasn't sent back to face charges because there's no extradition agreement, though he was jailed in Hong Kong on money laundering charges.

The rise of vigilante violence has occurred on both sides of the divide.

At one stage scuffles broke out between pro-Beijing supporters and protesters.

In contrast, pro-democracy figures have been attacked in a noticeably more targeted way, with at least eight prominent government critics, including politicians, beaten by unknown assailants since mid-August.

The group, who did not appear to be protesters, was struck twice, with much of the bright blue jet painting the mosque's entrance and steps.

Beijing has denounced the protests as a foreign-backed plot and condemned attacks on those voicing support for China. It has since widened into a pro-democracy movement.

Paralysed by seething protesters and intransigent bosses in Beijing, Hong Kong's government lacks the power and experience to end the unprecedented political crisis in the city, analysts say.

Lam's office and the police did not respond to requests for comment on the visit. But they morphed into wider calls for democracy and police accountability after Beijing and local leaders took a hard line.

The embattled leader visited the mosque to seek apology from chief imam and Muslim community leaders.

Earlier this month, the city's unelected leader Carrie Lam banned facemasks, leading to a new wave of vandalism and protests. It was the heaviest use of water canons by police and many people hit with the water developed coughs, suggesting an irritant may be mixed with the water. Jeremy Tam claimed that Mohan Chugani, former chairman of the Indian Association of Hong Kong, and he was among the injured.