Hong Kong Protests Swell as Riot Police Withdraw

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SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – HONG KONG; Pro-democracy rallies in Hong Kong grew on Monday afternoon as supporters joined protesters in three locations in the city, while riot police pulled back after failing to disperse crowds overnight with tear gas and pepper spray.

The protests took on an air of spontaneity Monday, growing as the day progressed despite the hot sun. New protesters joined tired marchers who had battled police the night before and by the afternoon, crowds swelled in three important districts in the city—Admiralty, where the rallies began and the shopping districts of Mong Kok and Causeway Bay.

Newcomers said they came to support protesters on the ground. There appeared to be no central organizing authority. Student leaders and the heads of Occupy Central didn’t offer plans or strategies. In the absence of direction and with police effectively in the background, protesters sat on usually traffic-filled streets as shoppers and workers went about their business.

Police scheduled a news conference for Monday afternoon to discuss their failed efforts to quell the protests over the previous few days. On Sunday afternoon, police were trying to contain one protest site when they closed it to newcomers. That spread the marchers across the district surrounding government headquarters, blocking traffic on one of the city’s busiest roads. Then the use of tear gas and pepper

lunch hour.

“I can’t go on strike as my firm is too small,” he said. “So I do this as a way of showing my support.”

It was unclear whether the organizers could build on the momentum. Activists have a good record of pushing back against Beijing, including two years ago when student protesters defeated a plan to use a Beijing approved “patriotic curriculum” in schools. But they haven’t succeeded on an issue as high-profile as this one. Just a few weeks ago, the pro-democracy movement had appeared to fizzle in the face of staunch opposition from Beijing, the city’s government and from many local business people.

The protests threaten to weaken Hong Kong’s economy, which has suffered as China has slowed. This week is a holiday in China and one of the big shopping weeks in Hong Kong and the protests threatened to keep tourists away.

On Monday morning, 17 banks, including HSBC Holdings PLC and Standard Chartered Bank PLC, had closed 29 branches or offices across the city. Police blocked major roads into the city’s central business districts forcing workers to walk to their offices.

BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest money manager, told any nonessential Hong Kong employees to work from home today, according to people familiar with the firm. BlackRock, along with Goldman Sachs and other financial firms, is located in Hong Kong’s Cheung Kong Center office tower, in the midst of a main protest area.

Accounting firm KPMG, located in nearby Causeway Bay and Central neighborhoods, told all employees to work from home Monday.

Still, Fitch Ratings said it doesn’t expect the protests to have an impact on Hong Kong’s rating in the short term, reiterating its double-A-plus rating on the city with a stable outlook.

“The events of the past 24 hours don’t significantly affect Hong Kong’s ratings,” said Andrew Colquhoun, head of Asia-Pacific Sovereigns at Fitch Ratings, in a statement.

Students have led the push for democracy in Hong Kong in recent months, tapping into their generation’s frustration over soaring housing costs, an economy dominated by large conglomerates and competition from mainland Chinese for services such as education and health care.

The city’s younger generation hasn’t benefited from China’s economic rise to the same extent as older residents, many of who cashed in as factory owners and real-estate investors, and who now oppose disrupting the city to fight over political issues.

University students boycotted classes and held rallies culminating in a confrontation with police Friday night when students climbed a fence at the government complex. Police arrested dozens of students and used pepper spray to push back the crowd.

The televised clashes between students and police prompted large crowds to come out to support the students.

Early Sunday morning, leaders of the city’s best-known pro-democracy group, Occupy Central, joined students at the city’s government headquarters. Occupy Central has vowed to disrupt the city’s central business district, and both groups share a desire for more democracy. But the appearance of the Occupy leaders, who are mostly middle-aged university professors and veteran members of the city’s democratic parties, stood in contrast to the students who had been camped out at the site for two days.

The deployment of riot police is extremely rare in Hong Kong, known for its largely peaceful and orderly protests.

The last time local police fired tear gas against protesters was during the World Trade Organization summit held in the city in December 2005. Few locals were among the protesters, many of whom were South Korean farmers who attacked police with bamboo poles and tried to break into a meeting of trade ministers from around the world. Other examples that involved riot police in recent years were mainly scuffles at prisons and refugee camps.

At a news conference Sunday afternoon, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying urged people not to join the protests, which he termed illegal.

China struck an uncompromising position. A spokesman for the government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office called the protests illegal on Sunday and said Beijing supported the preservation of order.

The protests came at the start of an important holiday week in China, when Hong Kong traditionally sees thousands of mainland tourists cross the border for shopping sprees. If the tourists are scared away, it could be a big blow to Hong Kong’s already sluggish

spray spread the protesters to three distinct areas, making it harder for police to control.

The weekend escalation of the protests—centered on Beijing’s decision to impose limits on how Hong Kong elects its leader—threatens to strain relations with Beijing, which controls Hong Kong under an arrangement labeled one country, two systems. Beijing has taken a hard line over the brewing dispute over democracy in Hong Kong, issuing warnings to protest organizers and pushing business leaders to support its stance, allowing universal suffrage but only allowing people to vote for preapproved candidates.

The protests were largely driven by university students who boycotted classes last week and stepped up their confrontation with authorities over the weekend. It has exposed a deep generational and economic divide in the city, and is poised to shape its relationship with mainland China for years to come.

The protests put Hong Kong’s government, which supports Beijing’s election plan, in a difficult position between its disgruntled citizens and China. In a news conference Sunday, the city’s leaders called the protests illegal. A few hours later, police began using tear gas.

On Monday morning, roads were still blocked by crowds, leaving normally packed streets empty, and some schools and offices were closed.

More than 200 buses headed to the city’s main business districts were suspended or rerouted forcing workers to walk a mile or two to work in the late summer heat. Normally plentiful taxis were scarce. The subway system was running normally, though a few exits were closed in certain neighborhoods.

Protesters blocked the tracks of Hong Kong’s iconic tram system with heavy planters in Causeway Bay, one of the city’s main shopping districts. But their presence didn’t deter shoppers, who walked around the protesters to get into the giant Sogo department story.

The protests showed signs of affecting Hong Kong’s financial industry as banks closed branches in the affected areas and the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the city’s de facto central bank, stood ready to inject liquidity into the banking system.

Still, much of Hong Kong’s business district was operating as normal, with suited professionals streaming in and out of office buildings, despite the continuing presence of several hundred protesters.

Monday afternoon, Hong Kong’s government called on protesters to vacate at least some of the roads to “allow the passage of emergency vehicles and the partial resumption of public transport services.” Its statement urged people there to stay calm and disperse peacefully.

In a city where residents line up for elevators and buses, an appreciation of order and cleanliness prevailed. Protesters helped clean up trash on the streets left after overnight clashes. At the main protest site at the city’s government headquarters, students sorted plastic bottles for recycling even as they wore goggles and plastic wrap and held umbrellas to protect against pepper spray.

Donations of everything from umbrellas to snacks for protesters piled up on Monday at various stations in the Admiralty and Causeway Bay neighborhoods. Ray Chung, an accountant, brought a box of bottled water and some bread to support protesters on his lunch hour.

“I can’t go on strike as my firm is too small,” he said. “So I do this as a way of showing my support.”

It was unclear whether the organizers could build on the momentum. Activists have a good record of pushing back against Beijing, including two years ago when student protesters defeated a plan to use a Beijing approved “patriotic curriculum” in schools. But they haven’t succeeded on an issue as high-profile as this one. Just a few weeks ago, the pro-democracy movement had appeared to fizzle in the face of staunch opposition from Beijing, the city’s government and from many local business people.

The protests threaten to weaken Hong Kong’s economy, which has suffered as China has slowed. This week is a holiday in China and one of the big shopping weeks in Hong Kong and the protests threatened to keep tourists away.

On Monday morning, 17 banks, including HSBC Holdings PLC and Standard Chartered Bank PLC, had closed 29 branches or offices across the city. Police blocked major roads into the city’s central business districts forcing workers to walk to their offices.

BlackRock Inc., the world’s largest money manager, told any nonessential Hong Kong employees to work from home today, according to people familiar with the firm. BlackRock, along with Goldman Sachs and other financial firms, is located in Hong Kong’s Cheung Kong Center office tower, in the midst of a main protest area.

Accounting firm KPMG, located in nearby Causeway Bay and Central neighborhoods, told all employees to work from home Monday.

Still, Fitch Ratings said it doesn’t expect the protests to have an impact on Hong Kong’s rating in the short term, reiterating its double-A-plus rating on the city with a stable outlook.

“The events of the past 24 hours don’t significantly affect Hong Kong’s ratings,” said Andrew Colquhoun, head of Asia-Pacific Sovereigns at Fitch Ratings, in a statement.

Students have led the push for democracy in Hong Kong in recent months, tapping into their generation’s frustration over soaring housing costs, an economy dominated by large conglomerates and competition from mainland Chinese for services such as education and health care.

The city’s younger generation hasn’t benefited from China’s economic rise to the same extent as older residents, many of who cashed in as factory owners and real-estate investors, and who now oppose disrupting the city to fight over political issues.

University students boycotted classes and held rallies culminating in a confrontation with police Friday night when students climbed a fence at the government complex. Police arrested dozens of students and used pepper spray to push back the crowd.

The televised clashes between students and police prompted large crowds to come out to support the students.

Early Sunday morning, leaders of the city’s best-known pro-democracy group, Occupy Central, joined students at the city’s government headquarters. Occupy Central has vowed to disrupt the city’s central business district, and both groups share a desire for more democracy. But the appearance of the Occupy leaders, who are mostly middle-aged university professors and veteran members of the city’s democratic parties, stood in contrast to the students who had been camped out at the site for two days.

The deployment of riot police is extremely rare in Hong Kong, known for its largely peaceful and orderly protests.

The last time local police fired tear gas against protesters was during the World Trade Organization summit held in the city in December 2005. Few locals were among the protesters, many of whom were South Korean farmers who attacked police with bamboo poles and tried to break into a meeting of trade ministers from around the world. Other examples that involved riot police in recent years were mainly scuffles at prisons and refugee camps.

At a news conference Sunday afternoon, Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying urged people not to join the protests, which he termed illegal.

China struck an uncompromising position. A spokesman for the government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office called the protests illegal on Sunday and said Beijing supported the preservation of order.

The protests came at the start of an important holiday week in China, when Hong Kong traditionally sees thousands of mainland tourists cross the border for shopping sprees. If the tourists are scared away, it could be a big blow to Hong Kong’s already sluggish economy.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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