HONG KONG — Hong Kong is braced for a weekend of unrest with pro-democracy protests likely to mount in the China-ruled territory ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on Tuesday.
Thousands of people are expected to rally in the city center on Saturday evening after authorities granted a permit for a gathering at Tamar Park, next to the headquarters of Hong Kong‘s Legislative Council.
The Asian financial hub marks the fifth anniversary this weekend of the start of the “Umbrella” protests, a series of pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014 that failed to wrest concessions from Beijing.
Rallies are also expected on Sunday to mark Global Anti-Totalitarianism Day, with solidarity events planned in cities across the world, including Paris, Berlin, Taipei, New York, Kiev and London.
But the biggest protests are likely to be on the Oct 1 National Day, with protesters saying they plan to use the holiday to propel calls for greater democracy in the former British colony and to embarrass political masters in Beijing.
Activists plan a mass rally from Victoria Park in the bustling Causeway Bay district to Chater Garden near government headquarters.
Official festivities have been scaled back, with authorities keen to avoid embarrassing Beijing at a time when President Xi Jinping is seeking to project an image of national strength and unity.
Benny Tai, a leading activist who was jailed for his role in the “Umbrella” movement, says that campaign revolutionized youngsters and set the stage for the current protests.
Pro-Beijing rallies are also planned in the city, raising the prospect of clashes.
Hong Kong has been roiled by sometimes violent demonstrations for months, with protesters blocking roads and vandalizing metro stations and riot police firing tear gas, pepper spray and water cannon at crowds.
Sparked by a bill — since withdrawn — that would have allowed the extradition of suspected criminals to mainland China, the protests have since expanded into a broader pro-democracy movement.
Protesters are angry about what they see as creeping Chinese interference in Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula intended to guarantee freedoms that are not enjoyed on the mainland.
China says it is committed to the formula and denies meddling. It has accused foreign governments, including the United States and Britain, of inciting the unrest.
Hong Kong‘s economy is on the verge of its first recession in a decade. Tourist arrivals in August dropped by nearly half from the same month in 2018, Commerce Secretary Yau Tang-wah told reporters on Friday.
“Arrivals in August dropped 49.6%,” he said. “Early in September, they dropped by 30% to 40%. The situation is severe.”
Crowds chanting anti-government slogans trapped city leader Carrie Lam in a stadium on Thursday after she held her first “open dialogue” with the people in a bid to quell the unrest.
More than four hours after the talks had ended, a convoy carrying Lam and other senior officials left the area under police guard.
“Like many participants said last night, Hong Kong should not be divided into colors. Diversity and freedom are cherished values in our society,” Lam said on her Facebook page.
“There were people outside the venue who wanted me to go out to talk. I know that everyone has different opinions about the form of dialogue. I promise that the dialogue will continue.”
— Additional reporting by Felix Tam; Writing by Poppy McPherson; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan