Hong Kong protesters vow weekend rally and ‘last chance’ for leader

Millions have hit the streets in protests fuelled by years of growing fears that authoritarian China is stamping out the city's liberties.

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists on Friday vowed to hold another massive rally over the weekend and warned the city’s pro-Beijing leader not to think a recent lull in violence means public anger is weakening.

The semi-autonomous financial hub has been battered by six months of increasingly violent protests pushing for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability in the starkest challenge the city has presented to Beijing since its 1997 handover.

Millions have hit the streets in protests fuelled by years of growing fears that authoritarian China is stamping out the city’s liberties.

The last fortnight has seen a marked drop in street battles and protester vandalism after pro-democracy candidates won a landslide in local council elections, shattering government claims that a “silent majority” opposed to the movement.

But activists say anger is building once more after chief executive Carrie Lam and Beijing ruled out any further concessions despite the pro-establishment drubbing.

“We hope the government can cherish peace in the past few weeks and will not mistake the people as giving up on their demands,” Jimmy Sham, from the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), told reporters on Friday.

“This is the last chance given by the people to Carrie Lam,” he added.

Hong Kong’s protests are largely leaderless and organised online.

But the CHRF, which advocates non-violence, has been the main umbrella group behind record-breaking marches earlier in the summer that saw huge crowds regularly march in searing heat.

The city’s police have taken the unusual step of allowing the CHRF march organised for Sunday to go ahead – the first time the group has been granted permission since mid-August.

Authorities have regularly banned major rallies in recent months citing the risks of violence from hardcore protesters.

Large crowds have simply ignored the bans, sparking near-weekly tear gas and petrol bomb clashes that have upended Hong Kong’s reputation.

Sunday’s march will follow a well-worn route on the main island from Victoria Park to the heart of the commercial district.

It comes a day before the city marks the six month anniversary of the protest movement which has five demands, including an independent inquiry into the police, an amnesty for some 6,000 people arrested and fully free elections.

Sham said his group was calling on both protesters and police to refrain from violence.

Online forums used to organise the movement’s more radical wing have vowed to target the morning commute on Monday if there is no response from Lam.

But there is little sign she is willing to budge.

“It’s been half year and the government is still refusing to address the real causes behind the crisis,” said Tany Chan, a pro-democracy lawmaker.

Lam has remained steadfast in her opposition to further concessions and Beijing has stuck by her even as she languishes with record-low approval ratings.

The police force’s reputation has also taken a hammering.

A new poll released on Friday by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Program, which has tracked public sentiment for years, showed new record disapproval for the force with 40% of respondents now giving the force the lowest mark of zero.

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