HONG KONG - Hundreds of thousands of protesters continue to occupy Hong Kong's central business district. The atmosphere was festive as night fell on the eve of the October 1 national holiday, marking the 65th anniversary of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, but it is freedom and democracy that these Chinese citizens wish to celebrate, not communist-imposed rule.
To the accompaniment of protest songs and rousing speeches calling for the resignation of Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying, the occupation of Hong Kong Central district continues. The scale of the demonstration means overloaded telephone and data networks across the district have crashed for long periods.
Helen Ng, a 21-year-old student volunteer, vows the people will remain on the streets until their demands for full democracy in this special administrative region of China are met, as agreed to by Beijing under the principle of one country-two systems.
“Please support us. We are not violent. We just want true democracy in Hong Kong; full universal suffrage. We don’t want [political] candidates selected by the central government of China,” said Ng.
Nearby, a social scientist who gives his name only as Jonathan handed out plastic sheeting to shelter protesters during one of several rain storms. Spirits not dampened, he explained there are very few umbrellas left in the shops these days, after the police tear-gassed protesters on Sunday.
“One of the excuses the police force used was that protesters were threatening them with their umbrellas. This irony became the symbol of the people; [an] umbrella revolution to show the government that we are not ridiculous, like them,” he said.
After public criticism of the incident, the government consigned the riot police to their stations. Fears persist though that Leung Chun-ying could re-mobilize the riot police and shut down the city’s Internet servers if public order appeared to be deteriorating in the eyes of a Beijing leadership concerned that Hong Kong could be the catalyst for protests elsewhere in China.
The demonstrators have a solution - at least to the plug being pulled on the Internet. Many have been communicating on their smartphones via a new application called FireChat.
One student protester explained that the app, developed by San Francisco IT firm Open Garden, allows users to send messages via Bluetooth, not WiFi, in areas where significant numbers of people have congregated.
“The network is poor now because there are so many people and the government blocks it [by] some of it ways. So we use the FIRECHAT as it [only] requires the Bluetooth. So many people can use it,” said the student.
While the protesters continue to organize, China's President Xi Jinping remains tight-lipped about the occupation. A Foreign Ministry spokesperson commented Tuesday that the protest constitutes “an illegal assembly,” adding that Beijing supports the Hong Kong government in dealing with the situation.
Graduate Emma Chan, one of those tear-gassed on Sunday, says the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre is keenly remembered on these streets. But while the People’s Liberation Army garrison looms over her shoulder, like many others she is more concerned about Hong Kong police brutality than the prospect of Beijing sending the Chinese army onto the streets.
“Honestly, I’ve been here since Saturday when there weren’t so many people, and it was kind of scary. But the whole world is watching. We don’t really believe that the PLA will come out. We still [believe] that China does not want to break its relationship with Hong Kong, yet,” said Chan.
As midnight strikes, China’s national day holiday began to a chorus of boos and chants for Leung Chun-ying to step down. Hong Kong’s Beijing-appointed leader has failed to meet a deadline set by the protesters to address the public.
One of the few statements from his office during the day explained that the Chinese National Day fireworks show on Hong Kong harbor will be canceled.?