A small group of protesters staged a defiant lunchtime rally in Hong Kong’s business district on Thursday, a day after police stopped an approved march amid street clashes and vandalism.
Around 200 people gathered at the Statue Square in Central, answering internet calls to “finish the rally together”, which was cut short on Wednesday.
Many were dressed in office clothes, with some wearing face masks. They yelled slogans over what they saw as a violation of their right to assemble.
In recent months, protesters have been taking to the heart of Hong Kong’s business district at lunchtime so office workers can join the demonstrations.
“Join work unions. Strikes on three aspects for everyone,” the crowd chanted, referring to civil disobedience action for schools, businesses and stock markets as part of the movement.
Some held placards accusing police of terminating the march and arresting innocent citizens without reason.
An IT engineer, who only went by the name Li, said he had attended most of the lunchtime rallies, but there was particular meaning to do so on Thursday.
“The main reason I came here today is that police forcefully terminated our rally yesterday,” the 28-year-old said.
He accused police of abruptly stopping the rally because the turnout was high, and the government did not want the world to see there was still a lot of support for the pro-democracy movement.
Li said he was optimistic about 2020, and believed authorities would have to give in sooner or later, as concepts such as spending exclusively at yellow shops – businesses which support the protesters’ cause – would help the movement thrive.
Johnny Chow said he took part in Wednesday’s rally, but was forced to leave soon after he set off from the starting point at Victoria Park.
The 30-year-old, who lives and works in Australia, said he was back in Hong Kong on holiday and had tried to take part in as many protests as possible.
“I can make myself heard by taking part in all these little gatherings,” he said.
On Wednesday, the Civil Human Rights Front, the group responsible for some of the city’s largest marches, organised a New Year’s Day march from Causeway Bay to Central, as anti-government protests enter their seventh month.
The group said more than 1 million people took part in Wednesday’s rally to press for five demands triggered by the government’s proposed extradition bill, which was withdrawn in September.
But police, who claim the peak turnout was 47,560, stopped the march at 5.30pm, little more than 2½ hours after it started, citing the vandalism of banks and shops by radicals.
Two historic lion statues outside HSBC’s headquarters in Central were set on fire, with several other branches trashed.
The bank became unpopular earlier this month after it was accused by protesters of playing a role in a recent police crackdown on Spark Alliance, a major fundraising platform for protesters.
On Thursday morning the eyes of both lion statues were still covered in red paint despite the efforts of cleaners. Other parts of the statues appeared blackened from the arson attack.
A construction worker, surnamed Tsang, 50, said he was against the act of damaging the statues, as well as with any other form of vandalism.
“Generally speaking, any destruction of property, be they lamp posts or traffic lights, is wrong,” he said. “Protesters can fight for their demands, but they should not be destroying things.”
An accountant, surnamed Au, said however that if protesters did indeed vandalise the statues, it was a “symbolic act” against the banking giant as the lions had long been its icons.
A spokesman from HSBC said the bank was “extremely saddened” by the unreasonable damage to the statues, but preliminary cleaning work was under way.
He said it would be followed by further assessment and restoration work by experts, which was expected to take some time.
“The bronze lion sculptures share a close tie with HSBC and the history of Hong Kong. We would do our utmost to protest these important antiques,” he said.
This article Hong Kong protests: small group stages defiant rally day after radicals trash banks and shops first appeared on South China Morning Post