Thousands of Hong Kong protesters, many wearing masks in defiance of emergency laws, staged an illegal march through the Kowloon district on Sunday that will test the strength of the pro-democracy campaign after four months of unrest.
Police have declared the march illegal, meaning the protesters face arrest. They ranged from young students to the elderly, many carrying umbrellas for protection from the sun and to shield their faces from street surveillance cameras.
The Kowloon area has been the site of some of the worst violence in recent weeks and tight security has been imposed along the march route, with metro stations closed and police placing water canons on the street.
Hardcore black-clad protesters, who have staged running battles with police and torched metro stations, were out on Sunday, setting up roadblocks and spraying graffiti saying: “We chose to die on our feet rather than live on our knees!”.
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A group of the “ninja” protesters trashed two shops and protesters damaged two metro stations.
The hardcore protesters have targeted Chinese banks and shops with links to mainland China, leaving mainland Chinese living in Hong Kong worried about their safety.
Protesters are angry at Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam for what they see as her failure to protect their freedoms from an encroaching Beijing, imposing colonial-era emergency powers, and allowing what they say is excessive force by police.
“Carrie Lam is not listening to us at all. This may work in China but not in Hong Kong,” said Cheung, a 33-year-old woman wearing a face mask and black Tshirt, symbols of the democracy movement. Like most protesters, she wanted to be known by only one name.
“You can’t ask a city that already has her freedom to walk backward. You can’t do this in an international city,” she said, adding she was not afraid of being arrested.
Hong Kong has been battered by months of often massive and violent protests, the worst political crisis since Britain handed the city back to China in 1997.
The crisis in the Chinese-ruled city also poses the biggest popular challenge to China’s President Xi Jinping since he took power. Xi has vowed to crush any attempt to split China.
The unrest was sparked by a bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts. It has since widened into a pro-democracy movement.
Hong Kong has been relatively calm in the past two weeks after violent protests fueled by the introduction of emergency laws, which ban face masks at public rallies.
“We hope the world will stand with Hong Kong,” said Jack, a 20-year-old student wearing a paper Guy Fawkes mask.
“China can use its influence to erode human rights and values around the world. The protests are not just for Hong Kong. They’re for human rights and values globally.”