One month into HK protests, defiance on the streets

HONG KONG- A month into the mass pro-democracy protests gripping Hong Kong, the movement is under pressure to keep up momentum — but those on the streets say their vigil has already changed the city for good.

On September 28, chaotic street battles in one of Asia’s premier financial hubs saw umbrella-wielding demonstrators choking on clouds of police tear gas.

The ugly scenes triggered a wave of anger, with tens of thousands swelling the ranks of those demanding open leadership elections for the semi-autonomous Chinese city in 2017.

Four weeks on, protest camps remain sprawled across three major thoroughfares.

But the Chinese government shows no sign of backing down on its insistence that candidates for the city’s top post be screened by a loyalist committee, a decision the protesters say is designed to ensure the election of a pro-Beijing stooge.

The crowds have thinned, and with Hong Kong’s authorities apparently determined to let the protests lose steam as residents tire of the ongoing traffic mayhem, demonstrators are under increasing pressure to shift to tactics that would force a response.

But their leaders are unsure how to move forward. For Joshua Wong, the firebrand teenage activist and one of the most recognisable faces of the so-called “umbrella movement”, the only certainty is that retreat is not an option.

“Occupiers are standing firm,” he told AFP at the main protest camp outside government headquarters in Admiralty, central Hong Kong.

“Without any concrete result, all of the occupiers will sleep in their tents every single night.”

Keen to reinvigorate the movement, organisers are planning a rally to mark the one-month anniversary of the protests later Tuesday, asking supporters to bring the same clothes they wore on September 28 — including protective gear.

At 17.57 (0957 GMT) activists will hold an 87-second silence to mark the number of times police said they fired tear gas that evening.