Hong Kong protesters form human chain 30 years after 'Baltic Way'

Elaine YU, Jasmine Leung
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Hong Kong's skyscraper-studded harbourfront as well as several famous shopping districts were lined with peaceful protesters

Thousands of people held hands across Hong Kong late Friday in a dazzling, neon-framed recreation of a pro-democracy "Baltic Way" protest against Soviet rule three decades ago.

The city's skyscraper-studded harbourfront as well as several busy shopping districts were lined with peaceful protesters, many wearing surgical masks to hide their identity and holding Hong Kong flags or mobile phones with lights shining.

The human chain is the latest creative demonstration in nearly three months of rolling protests which have tipped Hong Kong into an unprecedented political crisis.

"We have tried traditional marches, we have tried more militant acts -- although I don't agree with them -- this time we are coming out together to join hands and show that we are all still united," Wing, who gave only her first name, told AFP.

The protests started against a bill that would have allowed extradition to China, but have transformed into a wider rejection of Beijing's increasingly tight grip on the semi-autonomous city and a defence of its unique freedoms.

"By doing this, we are showing people around the world the high quality of Hong Kongers. What people did 30 years ago, we can also do," said Cat Law, a logistic worker in her 60s.

The Baltic Way was one of the largest ever anti-Soviet demonstrations, when more than one million people linked hands to form a human chain spanning over 600 kilometres (370 miles) on August 23, 1989.

Three decades on, the moving show of solidarity continues to inspire activists across the world.

The "Hong Kong Way" was called by the social media-driven protesters who have turned for the last several days to non-violent means of making their voice heard.

Protesters young and old chanted "Free Hong Kong" as well as the protest rallying cry "Hong Kong, add oil", while hand sanitiser was passed along the chains in the famously fastidious city.

Protests had previously slipped into violence, with running street clashes between police and a minority of hardcore demonstrators bringing chaos to a city normally associated with safety and stability.

But an uneasy peace was maintained through a week which started with a huge rally on Sunday, hailed by organisers as proof the movement still draws widespread public support.

Yet Hong Kong remains a city divided. Anger against the government and police runs deep among protesters who are exhausted after months on the street but still conducting near daily actions.

Protesters have called for an attempt Saturday to blockade routes to the city's airport -- a potential flashpoint if large numbers come out.

Eight thousand kilometres away in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius -- one of the sites of the original anti-Soviet "Baltic Way" protest -- a few hundred people staged a rally in support of the Hong Kong protesters, linking hands in the central square.

"We have to show solidarity with the Hongkongers! They are at the front-line of fighting for freedom and democracy," opposition lawmaker Mantas Adomenas, who helped organise the rally, told AFP.

Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia on Friday are holding commemorative "Baltic Way" events.