Hong Kong protests persist as National Day approaches

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Massive anti-government protests in Hong Kong continue; police take softer approach, use less force.

Thousands of anti-government protesters continued their occupation of several major districts in Hong Kong on Tuesday morning after police withdrew from some areas and refrained from further use of tear gas and pepper spray.

Overnight, the protesters – many of them university and high school students – sat in small groups dispersed across eight-lane thoroughfares singing songs, listening to speeches, and playing cards.

They are demanding that Beijing loosen its control over the territory, an international financial center that was a British colony from 1842 to 1997. They want genuine universal suffrage for the 2017 election of the city’s leader, in accordance an earlier promise from Beijing.

The occupation started late Friday, after students had boycotted classes for a week in an effort to pressure Beijing into concessions. Protesters, many of whom dressed in black – the traditional color of anti-government protests in the city – numbered around 50,000 at their peak, according to organizers.

“Hong Kong is becoming more like China,” Priscilla Cheung, a 23-year-old waitress at an Italian restaurant who came to the protest with her boyfriend, told the Anadolu Agency. “China controls our media more and more. We are losing our freedoms.”

In the stillness of 3 a.m. Tuesday (10 p.m. Monday Turkish local time), as many of her fellow protesters slept, Cheung described the quietness to AA as eerie.

She worried that authorities were planning an operation to clear the occupied areas before China’s National Day, on Wednesday.

“There are many rumors and false reports,” she said. “People are scared.”

Police fired tear gas 87 times at nine locations around the city from 6pm local time Sunday until early Monday, authorities said without revealing how many canisters were used, according to local media reports Tuesday.

Authorities said 41 people had been injured in clashes, including 12 police officers.

The police’s use of force failed to disperse the protesters for anything more than short periods of time.

Police were vastly outnumbered, and found impossible to control the crowds, who were spread over large areas in multiple districts. Authorities then changed tactic, taking a more accommodating stance towards the protesters and withdrawing from many areas.

“As those people gathering on these roads have generally calmed down, the police have stood down the anti-riot deployment,” the Hong Kong government said in a statement Monday, according to the South China Morning Post.

On Tuesday morning, some police officers even chatted and joked with protesters. Asked why he was engaging, one officer said he had received an order to do so from his boss.

Schools in areas affected by the protests would be closed for a second day Tuesday because of safety concerns, the government said.

Dozens of bus routes have been disrupted by the peaceful civil disobedience movement. The passiveness of the protests was one organizers and protesters repeatedly pointed out. And it was true – no fires had been lit and no shop windows had been smashed. Moreover, around ten police vans and two public buses abandoned in areas controlled by protesters had been left undamaged.

The average age of the protesters was young, with most either teenagers or in their twenties. That reflected one of the schisms in Hong Kong society.

“My father told me not ruin my own country by coming out to protest,” Jim So, a 22-year-old who spoke English in a confident manner, told AA.

“He thinks this government and society is already good enough. We, the protesters, don’t agree. There’s a generational divide.”

The protesters are also demanding that the city’s unpopular leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, resign.

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