Hong Kong festival marked with pro-democracy messages

International

A woman holds a paper lantern over the light on her smartphone during a demonstration at the Times Square shopping mall in Hong Kong, Thursday, Sept. 12, 2019. Thousands of people belted out a new protest song at Hong Kong’s shopping malls in an act of resistance that highlighted the creativity of demonstrators in their months-long fight for democratic freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

HONG KONG (AP) — Thousands of Hong Kong people carried lanterns with pro-democracy messages and formed human chains on two of the city’s peaks during mid-autumn festival celebrations Friday night, sustaining months-long protests for democratic reforms in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

Activists and ordinary citizens climbed atop Lion Rock and Victoria Peak, two of the city’s popular hills, flashing lights to illuminate human chains around the ridges. Activists unfurled a long black banner at Lion Rock calling for democratic elections.

Thousands of others gathered at public parks, the harbor front and malls, forming links, chanting slogans and singing protest songs. Many wrote messages calling for more democracy on paper lanterns.

The demonstrations, which began in June over an extradition bill that the government has now agreed to withdraw, are expected to continue because protesters have widened their demands to include direct elections for their leaders and police accountability.

Concerns over safety or disruptions caused by the protests have led to the cancellation or postponement of a series of events including K-pop concerts, Chanel fashion shows and international conferences. This week, a tennis tournament and London musical were shelved.

Organizers said Friday the Hong Kong Open women’s tennis tournament scheduled for Oct. 5-13 has been postponed indefinitely. The event was to be held at Victoria Park, a gathering point for many previous protests.

Earlier this week, protesters in the stands at a World Cup soccer qualifier match between Hong Kong and Iran loudly booed the Chinese national anthem and chanted pro-democracy slogans. Iran’s request for a venue change had been rejected.

Lunchbox Theatrical Productions called off a monthlong run of the London West End musical “Matilda” at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Acts that was to open Sept. 20. It said the civil unrest has affected ticket sales and that it cannot guarantee the safety of its young performers.

More than 1,300 people have been arrested since the protests began in June. The unrest has further battered Hong Kong’s economy, which was already reeling from the U.S.-China trade war. Tourist numbers have plunged, and businesses have been hit as protesters refuse to yield until their demands are met.

Many saw the extradition bill, which would have allowed some Hong Kong suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial, as an example of Hong Kong’s autonomy eroding since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The city’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, said Friday he regretted that his comments over the weekend calling for a way out for the mostly young protesters had been misrepresented after he was berated by Beijing.

In a video broadcast on local TV, the billionaire had described the summer of unrest as the worst catastrophe since World War II and urged the government to temper justice with mercy. Chang’an Jian, a social media account belonging to the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, said in a post late Thursday that Li’s remarks shielded those who committed crimes, and that he was not thinking about what was good for Hong Kong.

A spokesman for Li said in a statement that he does not condone violence and illegal acts, and hopes all parties will create space and initiate a dialogue to resolve the deadlock.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s government dismissed a warning from Canadian think tank Fraser Institute that Chinese interference and the police crackdown on protesters were threatening the city’s position as one of the world’s freest economies.

“Such comments are entirely ungrounded and not borne out by objective facts,” it said in a statement late Thursday. It defended the police, saying they used reasonable force to halt increasing violence by protesters.

At a human rights conference in Taipei on Friday, Hong Kong singer and activist Denise Ho called for international support against mainland Chinese intrusions and government tyranny.

She accused China of pressuring celebrities in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China to take sides. Last month, Australia’s National Gallery of Victoria denied a request by a Chinese artist to host an event that would feature a talk about democracy and Hong Kong, while Hong Kong activists were banned from a gay parade in Montreal after threats of sabotage by pro-China supporters, she said.

“We want a total political reform of the Hong Kong government,” she told the Oslo Freedom Forum. “When government institutions and corporates have their hands tied, it is up to the people to get back that authority … we can find solutions as a global community.”

China has denied meddling in Hong Kong affairs, and accused foreign powers of fomenting the unrest.

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AP journalists Alice Fung in Hong Kong and Ken Moritsugu in Beijing contributed to this report.

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