HONG KONG (AP) — Tens of thousands of people, many wearing black shirts and some carrying British colonial-era flags, marched in Hong Kong on Sunday, targeting a mainland Chinese audience as a month-old protest movement showed no signs of abating.
Chanting “Free Hong Kong” and words of encouragement to their fellow citizens, wave after wave of demonstrators streamed by a shopping district popular with mainland visitors on a march to the high-speed railway station that connects the semi-autonomous Chinese territory to Guangdong and other mainland cities.
Hong Kong has been riven by huge marches and sometimes disruptive protests for the past month, sparked by proposed changes to extradition laws that would have allowed suspects to be sent to the mainland to face trial. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam suspended the bill and apologized for how it was handled, but protesters want it to be formally withdrawn and for Lam to resign.
Organizers said 230,000 people marched on Sunday, while police estimated the crowd at 56,000.
“We want to show our peaceful, graceful protest to the mainland visitors because the information is rather blocked in mainland,” march organizer Ventus Lau said. “We want to show them the true image and the message of Hong Kongers.”
Chinese media have not covered the protests or their origins widely, focusing on clashes with police and damage to public property.
As the crowd broke up Sunday night, a few hundred remained and taunted police who had retreated behind huge barriers set up outside the railway station, while others moved to Canton Road, a street lined with luxury boutique stores. Around 11 p.m., police moved to disperse protesters who were blocking a road and arrested five people for assaulting or obstructing police officers, their statement said.
The march was the first major action since two simultaneous protests last Monday, the 22nd anniversary of the July 1, 1997, return of Hong Kong from Britain to China.
The march through central Hong Kong that’s held annually drew hundreds of thousands of people. It was overshadowed this year, however, by an assault on the legislative building by a few hundred demonstrators who shattered thick glass panels to enter the building and then wreaked havoc for three hours, spray-painting slogans on the chamber walls, overturning furniture and damaging electronic voting and fire prevention systems.
Sunday’s march was the first protest against the extradition legislation to take place on the Kowloon side of Hong Kong harbor. The previous ones were on Hong Kong Island, the city’s business and government center.
Many of the marchers were young and wore black shirts that have become the uniform of the protesters. The largely peaceful crowd also included older people carrying handheld fans in the muggy heat, as well as parents with children, including some in baby strollers.
Many held placards, including one that read “Extradite to China, disappear forever.” Some carried the British flag or the old Hong Kong flag from when it was a British colony.
“This is our fourth march because we think this government is not taking care of Hong Kong,” said Dan Lee, who joined with his wife and their three children. “We need to save Hong Kong and we need to come out for our future generations.”
The extradition legislation has raised concerns about an erosion of freedoms and rights in Hong Kong, which was guaranteed its own legal system for 50 years after its return to China in 1997.
Prior to the march, police put up large barricades blocking a main entrance to the railway station to prevent any attempt to enter it. Only passengers with train reservations were allowed into the station, the mass transit authority said, and Hong Kong media reported that ticket sales had been suspended for afternoon trains.
“The high-speed railway station is a connection between Hong Kong and China and this is the nearest place we can spread our message to China,” said Lau, the march organizer.
The station was a source of contention before it opened last September, because passengers pass through Chinese immigration and customs inside. Some opposition lawmakers said the fact that Chinese law applies in the immigration area violates the handover agreement under which Hong Kong maintains its own legal system.
Protesters also are demanding an independent investigation into a crackdown on June 12 demonstrations in which officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse crowds blocking major streets. Police said the tactics, harsher than usual for Hong Kong, were justified after some protesters turned violent. Dozens were injured, both protesters and police.
The protesters are also calling for the direct election of Hong Kong’s leader. Lam was chosen by an elite committee of mainly pro-Beijing electors.
Associated Press journalist Johnson Lai contributed to this report.