Asia-Pacific

Hong Kong protesters flood streets in most peaceful weekend since start of demonstrations

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For the first time in 11 weeks, a weekend of protests in Hong Kong has ended without any violent clashes between protesters and police, or any tear gas being fired.

Omar Dabbagh reports from Hong Kong

A weekend of mass rallies culminated in incredible sights on Sunday in Hong Kong, where scores of protesters overwhelmed the streets in defiance of a police order, to march peacefully under torrential rains.

It marked a stark contrast to last week’s chaos in the city, where the airport was the centre of violent clashes between protesters and police.

Organisers estimated 1.7 million people to have braved the conditions on Sunday, but no major incidents or acts of violence were reported. And for the first time since June, no tear gas was fired.

A man brandishes the most recognisable and final colonial flag of Hong Kong, as crowds amassed outside police headquarters in Admiralty. (SBS News/Omar Dabbagh)
SBS News/Omar Dabbagh

"I am so proud of the Hong Kong people because they come here, even in this really bad weather they came out, and they are not afraid,” protester Kelly told SBS News.

The atmosphere during the march, which initially started as an assembly in Victoria Park but spilled into a mass occupation of the streets within an hour, was incredibly peaceful - a mood that was felt right throughout the weekend.

The restrained approach by the overwhelming majority of protesters was a pointed message to the Hong Kong government, its police, as well as mainland China, all of whom have accused the protest movement of instigating violence.

The move represents change of tack for protesters, but some warn that violence will likely return if the government does not respond positively to their actions.

There were tense moments, though, as the evening wore on in Admiralty, as a collective remained outside government and police headquarters.

What appeared to be more than one thousand protesters milled around Nathan Road, seemingly waiting for a response from police before any retaliation on their end. But police activity was limited, and no response came.

As the apparent standoff in Admiralty continued last Sunday evening, protesters unfurled banners and began chanting at people to go home peacefully. (SBS News/Omar Dabbagh)
SBS News/Omar Dabbagh

During the standoff, protest organisers began to order people to leave - desperate to ensure the weekend passed without incident caused from their side.

The standoff resulted in only one minor incident, but that was between two protesters. The men had a heated argument which ignited momentary chaos and confusion for surrounding members, infuriating organisers.

The pair quickly reconciled — and calls grew louder for people to go home.

The Civil Human Rights Front, which organised the million-man march, wanted the night to end peacefully, and they ultimately got their wish.

The protests ignited 11 weeks ago in opposition to a now-shelved bill that could have seen some Hong Kong citizens extradited to mainland China. The movement has now expanded to include calls for greater democracy and a move away from Chinese influence.

"We won’t give up until we’ve got our answer, because Carrie Lam lives in her own deception,” protester Vic told SBS News.

"They only power deserved belongs to the people."

The situation in Hong Kong has been unpredictable since violence swept the city in June, and there were fears that this momentary pause in hostilities won’t be permanent.

Trump warning

US President Donald Trump on Sunday warned China that carrying out a Tiananmen Square-style crackdown on Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters would harm trade talks between the two countries.

"I think it'd be very hard to deal if they do violence, I mean, if it's another Tiananmen Square," Trump told reporters in New Jersey. "I think it's a very hard thing to do if there's violence."

Trump's comments came as Washington and Beijing look to revive pivotal talks aimed at ending their trade war, which has roiled world markets.

Phone calls between both countries' deputies are planned for the next 10 days, and if those are successful, negotiations could resume, Trump's chief economic advisor Larry Kudlow said on Sunday.

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