Thousands of peaceful protesters carried yellow banners and umbrellas through Hong Kong on Sunday afternoon, marking the city’s first major pro-democracy rally since police ended the months-long Umbrella movement street protests in December.
The rally’s organiser, the grassroots group Civil Human Rights Front, counted 13,000 marchers; the police counted 8,800 — far short of the 50,000-strong turnout the group had expected, but enough to suggest that the pro-democratic demands that fueled last year’s massive demonstrations have sustained their momentum into 2015.
The rally began at Victoria Park in the crowded shopping districBeijing has ruled Hong Kong under a “one country, two systems” arrangement since 1997, granting the former British colony a slew of civil liberties unthinkable on the mainland. Yet many of the city’s 7 million residents fear Beijing has been tightening its grip over the city’s independent media, schools and courts.
While Beijing has agreed to grant Hong Kong universal suffrage in the 2017 election, it has mandated that all candidates be screened by a majority pro-Beijing committee, in effect barring pro-democracy candidates from the ballot. It has steadfastly refused to budge on any of the protesters’ core demands.
“I am here to show that we have not lost sight of our goal, and that we have not been intimidated by the criminal charges against Occupy,” said a medical student at the protest who gave her name as Joy. “I want to fight to the end.”
Rico, an architecture student holding a yellow umbrella, a symbol of the pro-democracy movement, added: “We need to be here to fight for the future of Hong Kong. We will keep on demonstrating, but I have lost a bit of hope after the government ignored our demands for so long.”
Some protesters also waved yellow bananas, a riposte to pro-Beijing counter-protesters who, from the demonstration’s sidelines and in pro-mainland local media, have accused them of being “fake Chinese” fomented by “foreign forces”.
“They call us yellow outside and white on the inside,” said legislator Audrey Eu as she distributed plastic bananas at the march. “So we have to joke about this, and say that we will at least be as yellow as these bananas, and keep pushing for universal suffrage.”
A few demonstrators also carried British and Hong Kong colonial flags, an emblem of opposition to Beijing’s growing influence in the city.
“What we are trying to say with these flags is that Hong Kong was a British invention,” said a student protester who only gave his first name, Danny. “The Hong Kong that you see today has nothing in common with the Communist party of China or its values. Of course Beijing sees us as extremely provocative, but for them even the simple push for genuine universal suffrage is unacceptable.”