HONG KONG — Hong Kong is bracing for the 20th straight weekend of anti-government protests, after both sides revealed this week that they are digging in.
Protesters say they won't back down from their "five demands" on Hong Kong's government, and the city's chief executive, Carrie Lam, said she would make no concessions to protesters.
Lam's hardline position was echoed earlier this week by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who went a step further and warned that anyone advocating Hong Kong’s independence from China risked “crushed bodies and shattered bones.”
But protesters say they're not giving up. On Friday, more than 1,000 people flooded the city’s financial center, marching past banks and luxury stores, drawing hordes of curious onlookers and bringing traffic to a halt.
The protesters' main demands include universal suffrage, an investigation of police violence, amnesty for protesters and the full, official withdrawal of the spark that lit the fires of dissent: a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would allow mainland China to try people arrested in Hong Kong.
Protests have been a near-constant presence in the city since June, even though police have outlawed unauthorized protests and the wearing of face coverings during public gatherings.
Many protesters speaking to VOA did not provide their full names out of fear of retribution from law enforcement.
Many expressed frustration with Lam’s intransigence.
“She’s just not responding at all,” said a woman who identified herself as Mrs. Ho and said she is a retiree. “We have all these five demands, but not one of them was granted, except she withdrew the bill. But what about the other four? The other four are so important as well. So I think the five demands, not one less, is very, very vital.”
Young people have played a central role in these leaderless protests, and have made up a significant proportion of protesters during weekend protests. One-third of the more than 2,200 people arrested have been under the age of 18.
Students have taken to wearing their masks to school, in defiance of the mask ban, and many schools have defended their actions.
“We really see that Carrie Lam, like she is trying to frighten we Hong Kongers,” said a 14-year-old student who said his name is Ambrose. “But this will just make us more angry and we will be willing to come out and tell her we’ll never give up.”
So what will make them stop? Protesters gave almost identical answers. This man, a 52-year-old businessman, gave his name as Mr. Ho.
“Five demands,” he said, as two policemen behind him unfurled a yellow banner, warning protesters that their gathering was illegal. “And the sixth demand is all the police must be reorganized.”
In a Facebook live session this week, Lam made it clear she would entertain none of that -- especially not the police demand. She defended the force, saying they provide much-needed public safety.
But as previous protests have seen, police have inflicted the most casualties, with tear gas, rubber bullets and even the occasional live round. More protests are planned this weekend, although police have not granted permission.
Protests are also planned for every weekend for the rest of the year -- or until one side gives in.