The Occupy movement has spread to Hong Kong as residents – spearheaded by student activists – protest Beijing’s new guidelines for election, which locals see as “decidedly anti-democracy.” Armed with umbrellas, goggles and surgical masks, with their skin covered in plastic wrap, the protesters faced off against Hong Kong police, who attempted to disperse them with tear gas. The umbrellas have proved to be very effective weapons in the weekend’s clashes.
The Occupy Hong Kong demonstrators blocked traffic in the area surrounding Hong Kong’s center of government, with many spilling into other areas of the financial district such as the Causeway Bay shopping district. Local shoppers simply walked around them and continued shopping.
On Sunday, police dressed in riot gear and armed with batons tried to drive the protesters away. The tear gas canisters and pepper spray the Hong Kong officers fired did not disperse the throng, due to the protesters’ umbrellas and protective gear. Roads have been closed and many avenues of public transportation diverted. Chinese officials are angry as protesters still clog the streets. Business in the area is limping as commuters fight massive traffic snarls as business opened on Monday.
Hong Kong no sooner decided to hold their first elections, tentatively scheduled for 2017, than Beijing rejected open nominations. Instead, they have set up guidelines requiring that candidates be vetted by Beijing. Residents in semi-autonomous Hong Kong fired back with a storm of protests. Current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, seen by many as “Beijing’s front-man,” is calling for protesters to “calm down and go home.” His cries are falling on deaf ears as the protests grow by the tens of thousands. The Occupy Central movement has called for Leung to resign.
University of Hong Kong professor, Fu King-wa, who heads up the Weiboscope censorship monitoring project at the school’s Journalism and Media Center, said China’s social media censoring was way up. According to Fu, out of every 10,000 Weibo posts on Sunday, 152 were deleted. This was about five times the rate of censorship from the prior week, and the highest level he has seen since the project commenced.
More than 40 people were injured in Sunday’s protest and the police say they have arrested almost 80 people. Since the British transferred control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, the city has enjoyed more liberty than the rest of China. Although Beijing takes a hard line over challenges to the Communist Party, they promised that Hong Kong would stand apart and eventually hold free elections. Hong Kong has separate financial and legal systems from mainland China and the protesters are incensed at the thought that Beijing will be screening their election candidates.
The protests had turned peaceful by Monday morning, according to local sources who say the organizers asked people “to return home.” According to CNN, the government said that riot police were ordered to withdraw, requesting only that protesters allow transportation and emergency vehicles to pass. Thousands of demonstrators remain in Hong Kong’s business district.
Hong Kong residents, who are known for their orderly conduct, picked up trash after the protests, and several local blogs snapped photos of students sorting recyclables while wearing their goggles and protective gear. However, it is the umbrellas that have been photographed the most, having become unlikely weapons of choice for Hong Kong’s Occupy Central protest.
By Jenny Hansen