China attempts to Crush Hong Kong’s Independence Dream
The biggest challenge for democracy that China has experienced in 25 years reached its peak today. Hong Kong Police in assault uniforms, fired tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets at thousands of protesters who paralyzed the center of the Chinese autonomous territory to demand free elections.
Concentrations began a campaign of civil disobedience, culminating a week of protests initiated by the student movement, on strike since last Monday.
The scenes in the streets were of chaos. The zone closest to the offices of the local government occupied by students, had been surrounded by police who did not allow access, only exit.
In adjacent areas, the police cordons were trying to disperse the crowd, who maintained a peaceful attitude. “You are participating in an illegal gathering. We urge you to leave immediately,” repeated the agents through the speakers.
In areas of higher concentration Police pepper sprayed protesters as it had done in previous nights, resorted to tear gas, which is rarely used in Hong Kong. However, the demonstrators continued their protest in large areas of the center of the former colony.
“The use of tear gas today is unacceptable,” declared one of the leaders of the civil movement “Occupy Central“, Chan Kin-Man. “People occupied the street, but had no choice, because they would not let happen through the fenced area.”
Beijing has indicated through a spokesman from its office that it “strongly opposes any illegal activity that undermines the rule of law and endangers social peace.” The head of the local government, Leung Chu-ying, has pleaded “to oppose the illegal acts of occupation by Occupy Center”.
The clash between the regime and the pro-democracy movement has thus entered a new phase, in which it is hard to see that none of the two parties voluntarily yield.
Beijing has never been willing to tolerate any kind of mobilization that can evoke the revolutions of the “Arab Spring” even remotely, and the protesters want to defend something that is actually beyond mere electoral reform.
By asking for free elections they seek to defend an identity and Hong Kong’s freedoms that they feel are threatened by the strong influence from mainland China.
Hong Kong is governed since 1997 under the principle “one country, two systems” with granted freedoms that do not exist in mainland China. Beijing has promised to allow, from 2017, the election for head of government of the former colony held under universal suffrage.
But on 29 August, the central government presented its proposal for electoral reform, which imposes a number of conditions which ensure in practice that any candidate will need to have prior approval from the Chinese government.
Among other things, applicants will be nominated by a committee of 1,200 members, mostly formed by personalities with ties to Beijing. This is a complete denial of the aspirations of the pro-democracy movement, that had hoped that their pressures, which included a non-binding referendum with the participation of 12 percent of the population and a mass demonstration in Beijing in July, which was in favor of a liberal reform.
The concentration occurred after the civil movement “Occupy Central with Peace and Love” declared the beginning of its campaign of civil disobedience, three days before the date originally planned, on 1 October, National Day of China.
According to Chan, the popular response is “well above our expectations. Some criticized us for being too passive. Early in the morning we were very few … Then we saw how many people came and we have been very surprised. “
In the past 48 hours, according to police, 78 people were arrested in the protests. In an apparent gesture to protesters student leaders Joshua Wong, 17, and Alex Shum Lester Chow, arrested in demonstrations on Friday and Saturday were released by the police on Sunday.