Hong Kong teachers rally in thunderstorm at start of weekend of protests
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[August 17, 2019]
By Marius Zaharia and Julie Zhu
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Several thousand Hong
Kong school teachers and supporters braved thunderstorms on Saturday to
start a weekend of anti-government protests, despite fears that police
could adopt tougher tactics to drive activists off the streets.
Following the escalation in violence during the past few days, the
demonstrations this weekend will provide a litmus test as to whether the
protest movement can retain the broad support that it has appeared to
Demonstrators say they are fighting the erosion of the "one country, two
systems" arrangement that enshrined some autonomy for Hong Kong since
China took it back from Britain in 1997.
During the past week they have increasingly directed their frustrations
toward police, who have responded with fiercer determination to clear
them from the streets.
Yu, aged in her 40s and a music teacher at a local secondary school,
said she was determined to show support for protesting students, even
though she didn't agree with all their actions.
"I do appreciate their courage and caring about Hong Kong...they are
definitely braver than our government," she said.
The teachers rally - which organizers estimated drew 22,000 people
whereas police said 8,300 - had been approved by police.
After gathering peacefully in the Central business district, they
marched on the Government House residence of Hong Kong's embattled
leader Carrie Lam, chanting "Hong Kong police know the law, they break
"If Carrie bothered to respond to our demands at the very beginning,
nobody would get hurt," Lee, a retired primary school teacher, said.
Anti-government demonstrators were also expected to march through
Kowloon districts popular with traders and tourists from mainland China.
The pro-democracy Civil Human Rights Front, which organized peaceful
million-strong marches in June, has scheduled another protest for
"We all feel tensions are building and the level of stress is
increasing," one front-line protester, Pun, 22, told Reuters during a
sit-in at the international airport earlier in the week.
"I know violence cannot fight violence but sometimes aggression is
needed to attract the attention of the government and others," he said.
"I have thrown rocks...I have also been hit by police with batons. We're
all slowly getting used to this."
Thousands of mostly young protesters forced a shutdown of flights at the
city's Chek Lap Kok international airport on Monday, disrupting flights
until late Tuesday.
CALLS FOR RESTRAINT
The increasingly violent confrontations have plunged one of Asia's
financial capitals into its worst crisis for decades. The unrest also
presents one of the biggest challenges for Chinese President Xi Jinping
since he came to power in 2012.
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Teachers protest against the extradition bill during a rally
organised by Hong Kong Professional Teachers' Union in Hong Kong,
China August 17, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
Western governments, including the United States, have stepped up
calls for restraint following ugly and chaotic scenes at the
On Friday, the chief executive of Cathay Pacific Airways quit after
China's aviation regulator demanded the Hong Kong carrier suspend
staff involved in or supporting the protests.
Chinese officials have likened some actions by protesters to
"terrorism" and Chinese state media outlets have urged tougher
response from Hong Kong police.
Clashes became noticeably fiercer during the past week. Protesters
have used slingshots to fire marbles at police, shone lasers at them
and at times thrown bricks and firebombs.
Having fired tear gas to disperse protesters in the streets, and at
one point in a subway station, police are warning that they could
Although their stations have been targeted scores of times during
the crisis, police have so far refrained from deploying armored cars
which could smash through barricades. Nor have they used water
cannon - two were purchased in 2014 - or unleashed the force's dog
squad on protesters.
"We have in place a more flexible strategy," one police officer
said. "We are in a far better position to have a more efficient and
Across the border, in the mainland city of Shenzhen, China's
People's Armed Police units have staged extensive drills in recent
days, but Hong Kong police say they can handle the situation.
As protesters have employed a flash-mob strategy, withdrawing when
police advance, only to re-appear elsewhere, police have also begun
using undercover officers, disguised as protesters, to gather
intelligence and make arrests.
Police have made some 750 arrests since the unrest began in June,
and have charged some protesters with rioting which can attract a
10-year jail term as punishment.
In some cases, the arrests have been accompanied by extensive
property searches and seizure of phones and computers, police
"They are doing these hit and run lately," one senior police officer
told media earlier this week. "Arrests should be a natural
consequence. If we can arrest more and more because they are
undertaking illegal acts, so be it."
(Reporting by Marius Zaharia and Julie Zhu; Additional reporting by
Felix Tam. Writing by Tom Westbrook and Greg Torode; Editing by
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