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Hong Kong Democracy Protesters Look for Outside Support

  • Steve Herman
  • VOA News

Pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong have been greeted mostly with silence by foreign governments, frustrating protest organizers.

Many countries in the region are not democracies, while others may be hesitant to release statements that would almost certainly draw the ire of Hong Kong's powerful overseer, the Chinese government.

"Once again, democratic govs are not speaking up for democracy" as it relayed the U.S. consulate's statement, which it described as "mealy-mouthed," the Twitter feed of Occupy Central lamented.

'We do not take sides'

The two paragraph statement, issued by the consulate midday Monday, noted the United States' strong support for Hong Kong's fundamental freedoms, "such as freedom of peaceful assembly, freedom of expression, and freedom of the press."

It added: "We do not take sides in the discussion of Hong Kong's political development, nor do we support any particular individuals or groups involved in it."

The consulate called for "all sides to refrain from actions that would further escalate tensions, to exercise restraint, and to express views" on Hong Kong's political future in a peaceful manner.

The foreign office of the United Kingdom said Monday it is carefully monitoring events and "expresses concern about the situation in Hong Kong and encourages all parties to engage in constructive criticism."

Thousands of demonstrators kept vigil Monday at key intersections in the special administrative region of China, but the Hong Kong government said it had withdrawn riot police after the previous evening's chaos because "citizens have mostly calmed down."

The unpopular Hong Kong chief executive C.Y. Leung, whom demonstrators are calling on to resign, denied rumors troops of the People's Liberation Army would be deployed to crush the protest movement.

Civic and religious organizations expressed dismay that police lobbed tear gas canisters and shot pepper spray at peaceful protestors Sunday.

Scant evidence of unruly protesters

Police maintained they used minimal force in order to keep a safe distance between protestors and officers.

At a news conference, the police also accused demonstrators of using violence, compelling their use of force.

There was scant evidence of any acts of violence by protestors.  Many on social media noted how peaceful the street action had been.

The founder of the Hong Kong Writers' Circle, Lawrence Gray, on Twitter, remarked that only in Hong Kong "do protestors recycle water bottles and don't even smash a window."

A statement from the Hong Kong Bar Association said the organization "is deeply disturbed by, and deplores and condemns, the excessive and disproportionate use of force" by police, noting that many of the demonstrators, who were conducting themselves peacefully, were students.

The lawyers' group warned the police response "had unnecessarily aggravated public feelings of resentment and frustration."

Cardinal John Tong signed an "urgent appeal" issued by the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong, calling for the government "to put the personal safety of fellow citizens as [its] prime concern" and to "xercise restraint and listen to the voice of the younger generation and of citizens from all walks of life."

WATCH: Raw video interview with student protesters

Broader support

Besides a strike by students, which began Friday, the movement also garnered support Monday from a growing diverse segment of the general population.

Numerous companies, including Swire Coca-Cola HK Limited, confirmed that some workers had gone on strike to express support for the aims of the fledgling movement.

Employees of Apple stores in Hong Kong circulated a petition calling for CEO Tim Cook and the U.S.-based computer and smartphone manufacturer to "support and help our civil disobedience campaign, and also to respond to the fight of Hong Kong people."

More than 1,000 Apple workers in Hong Kong signed the petition, according to reports

Monday afternoon, about 1,000 social workers and students converged on Polytechnic University for a rally organized by the Confederation of Trade Unions, which said many social workers planned to stop working until the Occupy movement ends.

The original demonstration, organized by the Occupy Central, morphed into a larger and spontaneous action Sunday at several locations to call for Hong Kong's leaders to be elected without interference from Beijing.

On Twitter, the #OccupyCentral hashtag to follow the protest activities spawned others, such as #OccupyHongKong and #UmbrellaRevolution, the latter a reference to the inverted parasols deployed by demonstrators to deflect tear gas canisters and pepper spray.

Tourism, economic impact

The scenes of thousands of protesters massed in Asia's financial hub has not appeared to have any significant immediate impact on tourism.

Australia and Italy are among the first countries to issue travel alerts.

Australia's low-level warning cautioned its citizens traveling to Hong Kong of "significant disruption to traffic and public transport services" in affected areas.

The primary initial ramifications and concern for the former British colony are primarily related to economic activities, in keeping with Hong Kong's robust capitalistic reputation.

The benchmark Hang Seng stock index closed Monday down 449 points, equivalent to 1.9 percent.

The Hong Kong Monetary Authority, the de facto central bank, stated it stands ready "to inject liquidity into the banking system as and when necessary."

With roads into the Central business district blocked Monday banks kept some branches closed and advised staff to go to other branches or work from home.

The ratings agency Fitch said there is no immediate concern for Hong Kong's AA+ rating with a stable outlook.

"It would be negative if the protests are on a wide enough scale and last long enough to have a material effect on the economy or financial stability," said Andrew Colquoun, head of Fitch's Asia-Pacific Sovereigns. "But we don't currently see this as very likely.

'This will end badly'

Some other veteran China hands are more pessimistic.

On Twitter, U.S.-China Institute senior fellow and former CNN correspondent Mike Chinoy said: "I covered Tiananmen in '89. I see no way the Chinese government can tolerate what is happening in HK. Greatly fear this will end badly."

An editorial in China's Global Times blamed U.S. media for "attempting to mislead and stir up Hong Kong society" by linking the street movement to the Tiananmen Square uprising a quarter of a century ago in Beijing.

October 1 will mark the 65th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

With pro-democracy demonstrators still on the streets and no end in sight to the movement, Hong Kong's government has announced the cancellation of the annual National Day fireworks show in Victoria Harbor out of "regard to public transport arrangement and public safety considerations."