Tens of thousands have gathered in Hong Kong to show their support for pro-democracy protesters who have vowed to continue their fight into 2020 following months of unrest in the territory, which is mired in its biggest political crisis in decades.
“We walk together and never forget those who were suppressed . . . we will never forget our original intention,” said Jimmy Sham, convener of Hong Kong’s Civil Human Rights Front, a pro-democracy group, which organised the rally.
The march was also intended to promote the more than 40 newly formed trade union groups, which have sought to galvanise support for the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong’s workplaces. Many unions in the city have traditionally been controlled by Hong Kong’s pro-establishment politicians.
By 5pm skirmishes had started with police and demonstrators had smashed windows and destroyed ATMs at an HSBC branch along the march’s route. The bank has been targeted after it was accused of closing an account used to manage proceeds of crowdfunded donations to protesters.
Hours earlier on New Year’s Eve, revellers had counted down 2020 with shouts of “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times” — the anti-government movement’s main slogan.
Police dispersed protesters in the Mongkok district, which has seen particularly violent battles between police and demonstrators over the past few months, deploying tear gas and water cannon as some radical protesters disrupted traffic and lit fires.
Earlier on Tuesday high-profile parliamentarians and dignitaries from 18 countries signed an open letter to Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam expressing “grave concerns” over police brutality and urging her to allow an independent inquiry.
“A cycle of violence is in nobody’s interests,” read the letter, whose signatories included former UK House of Commons speaker John Bercow. “Hong Kong is a great world city, a major international financial and trading centre, and an important gateway to China and the rest of Asia. It would be a tragedy if it loses this role and gains a reputation for repression,” it added.
A Hong Kong government spokesperson said the letter’s claims were misleading and that police had used restraint in dealing with protests.
“Hong Kong is being used as a pawn by some in the west to further their own agendas . . . while ignoring the ongoing serious threats to law and order by radicals that they would hardly tolerate in their own country,” the spokesperson said.
A Hong Kong government statement said that 520 police officers had been injured on duty during the months of unrest, which began as a reaction to now-withdrawn legislation that could have seen criminal suspects extradited to mainland China for the first time. Anti-government protesters’ demands have since expanded to include an independent inquiry into police behaviour after a number of protesters were seriously injured by riot officers.