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Occupy Central Movement Builds in Hong Kong

  • William Ide
  • VOA News

Pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong continued to defy China on Monday despite calls for them to disperse.

Thousands of protesters have taken over usually busy streets in key parts of the Asian financial hub.

Beijing has warned against foreign interference and condemns the pro-democracy protests.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying defiantly told a news briefing in Beijing, "Hong Kong is China's Hong Kong."

Hua said China firmly opposes "any form of support" by foreign countries for what it said were "illegal" protests.

A Hong Kong State Council and Macao Affairs office statement published in China's Global Times newspaper said the central government "strongly opposes illegal behavior in Hong Kong that threatens social order and stability."

A government spokesperson added that the central government believes Hong Kong officials can manage the situation and are responding legally.

US, British reaction

The White House said Monday the United States is closely watching the situation in Hong Kong and supports freedom of assembly and expression. It urged authorities there to show restraint and called for protesters to be peaceful.

The White House also said the legitimacy of Hong Kong's chief executive would be enhanced after the elections if the territory's residents had a genuine choice of candidates.

Britain called for "constructive" talks that would lead to a "meaningful advance for democracy."

Hong Kong authorities gave a rare show of force Sunday and early Monday morning as they battled with protesters. Scenes of the standoff broadcast live online were filled with chaotic scenes and tear-gas fueled clashes.

On Monday, however, riot police withdrew and the situation calmed.

WATCH: Raw video interviews with student protesters in Hong Kong

The Hong Kong government has repeatedly urged protesters to peacefully withdraw, but the defiant rally against a recent ruling on electoral reform from Beijing is showing no signs of waning.

The Occupy Central rally is a top trending topic on Twitter online. One picture showed protesters sitting and passing around homemade desserts and others holding flowers as a sign of peace.

Some online have begun to refer to the movement as the Umbrella Revolution because of how protesters have used the devices as shields against the pepper spray from police.

Just how long the protesters can hold the downtown areas remains unclear, as well as whether authorities may step up the pressure again. But as the demonstrations have continued, many locals are reaching out to support those camped out.

Hungry protesters applauded when food arrived and pictures online showed large stockpiles of water donated by citizens in support of the movement piling up on city streets.

Milky is an office worker and has been delivering goods to show her support. She said the effort was not organized, but self-driven.

“People circulate news through Facebook, Twitter, and different kinds of social networks, telling all of the people at home or other places what they need. So we know what they need and we will buy the target material and deliver it here," said Milky.

"Some people are not really able to be sitting here, so sometimes before they work, they buy stuff and then deliver it here. Or I have a friend who even used his lunch time to buy some goggles and deliver it to Admiralty [one key location of the protests]."

Makeshift tents

Some put together makeshift tents with plastic pipes and wood as protesters geared up for a lengthier battle to maintain their blockade of some of the city’s main thruways.

Jay is a computer studies student at the University of Hong Kong. He said his parents did not support the protests, but he felt a duty to be there.

“I am expecting our chief executive can come out and talk. As a political leader he should stand up and be unafraid of us. Because we give them money to hire them, so they need to listen to our voice and do things for us. But he didn’t. He only listens to the central government,” he said.

On Monday, China voiced its support for the Hong Kong administration and confidence in its ability to handle the situation. In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China was resolutely opposed to any illegal activities that threaten rule of law and social stability. She also warned foreign governments against supporting the protests.

Hua said Hong Kong belonged to China and its affairs were purely an internal matter. She said that Beijing was resolutely opposed to any efforts by foreign governments to interfere in China’s internal affairs or support Occupy Central’s illegal activities.

In a statement released Monday, the U.S. consulate in the port city said it supported Hong Kong’s well established traditions and fundamental freedoms, such as peaceful assembly and expression.

The statement said Washington did not take sides in the discussion about Hong Kong’s political development, adding that it did not support any particular individuals or groups involved.

The statement also called on all sides to refrain from actions that would further escalate tensions.

Display of defiance

The massive display of defiance against Beijing in Hong Kong has already been compared by some to the pro-democracy, 1989 Tiananmen Square protests that led to a brutal government crackdown.

The Hong Kong government has said it would not call on the People’s Liberation Army soldiers stationed in the city state to respond to the protests. There are concerns that if the situation continues to build a similar response could be used.

For now, China is sitting back to let authorities in Hong Kong handle the situation. But, at least one Chinese scholar has already suggested in state media that Beijing could send in China’s armed police if Hong Kong authorities cannot control protesters.

When asked about the concerns of a Tiananmen style crackdown, University of Hong Kong computer science student Jay said he was not worried.

“I don’t think so, because now the media in Hong Kong, still has freedom. Freedom of information in Hong Kong is also free. Also, because of the globalization, I think if the Hong Kong government or the central government in Beijing, if they do this sort of thing, America, Britain will come out and help us,” he said.

When China and Britain set up the handover of Hong Kong from British colonial rule in 1997, the port city was given guarantees that it would not be stripped of the freedoms citizens already enjoyed.

Many feel those freedoms are eroding in Hong Kong as China exerts more influence over it. A recent decision by China to only allow a pro-Beijing committee select candidates when Hong Kong elects its next leader in 2017 has prompted students and pro-democracy advocates to take to the streets in protest.

The protests against the decision are peaking this week as China gears up to celebrate its National Day holiday starting Wednesday. However, Hong Kong authorities announced Monday that they were canceling fireworks for public safety and transport reasons.

Pros Laput contributed to this report from Hong Kong, VOA's China branch also contributed to this report.

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