Lightning and heavy rain marked the scene outside the central government complex. A coming two-day holiday could bring record numbers to rallies spreading throughout the city as organizers pressed demands for free elections. Lam Yik Fei/Bloomberg
Protesters Expect Attempts to Break Up Demonstrations
By Jason Chow and Enda Curran
The Wall Street Journal
HONG KONG—Pro-democracy protesters and Hong Kong’s government entrenched their positions ahead of China’s National Day, a holiday that looked set to bring protesting crowds to a peak and increase the chances for a confrontation.
On the fifth day of a wave of protests that have swept the city in an often festival-like atmosphere, three main protest groups joined forces to call for the resignation of Leung Chun-ying, the city’s chief executive, and gave him until midnight to respond to their demands.
As the deadline passed, protesters cheered. Shortly after, crowds appeared to spread out from the area near government headquarters in the Admiralty district to nearby Bauhinia Square, which was blocked off for official National Day celebrations planned for Wednesday.
New crowds were also gathering across Victoria Harbour in the Tsim Sha Tsui luxury-shopping district of Kowloon, and supporters were bringing in supplies such as water.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Leung chided protesters for endangering Hong Kong’s economy and reputation, and said protests wouldn’t change Beijing’s decision to effectively prescreen candidates for the election of Hong Kong’s top leader—the issue at the root of the protests.
The war of words underlined growing apprehension with the approach of Oct. 1, which celebrates the founding of the People’s Republic of China and draws many mainlanders to the city to sight-see and shop.
Protesters on the streets Tuesday night feared the city would try to clear them out before the Wednesday holiday and the arrival of Chinese tourists. “Many mainlanders will be here,” said York Lei, a 21-year-old student.
In a sign that the protests are starting to affect commerce, French cosmetics company L’Oréal banned its staff from business travel to Hong Kong until next week, the first major international company to publicly acknowledge concern around the city’s turmoil.
The Hong Kong office of China’s Foreign Ministry sent out a letter on Sunday to foreign diplomats in the city, advising them to “stay away from the sites of assembly…so as to avoid violating the law and affecting their own safety and interests.” The U.S. Consulate confirmed it received the letter.
As pro-democracy protests grew in Hong Kong on Monday, an aerial drone captured shots of the crowd as it massed in the city’s business district. Photo: Facebook/Nero Chan
The crowds grew Tuesday as daytime temperatures of 30 degrees Celsius, or 86 Fahrenheit, gave way to loud thunderstorms in the evening. Protesters, who were already wielding umbrellas to shield against the sun as well as pepper spray, were undaunted by brief evening rain showers. Organizers expected the largest number of people in the streets since protests began in earnest on Friday night.
Thunder and heavy rain hit Hong Kong for about 10 minutes as protesters broke into song. During the rain we spoke to Benny Tai, Co-Founder of the HK Occupy movement and protesters who are entering another night of protests.
Many demonstrators, such as 67-year-old grandmother Tam Kam Yuk, thought it was particularly important to show support on the eve of a holiday heavy on symbolism. “This is my first time out,” she said. “Even though the chances are slim, we should fight for what we want.”
For the first time in the latest wave of protests that have largely lacked an organizing authority, student organizers and leaders of the Occupy Central movement presented a united front, standing together at a joint news conference to blame Mr. Leung for failing to take residents’ wishes for free elections into account and for authorizing the use of tear gas against protesters Sunday night.
- The 17-Year-Old Public Face of Hong Kong’s Protests
- Hong Kong Protests Have History of Success in Challenging Government
- Protests Have Retailers and Real-Estate Companies Worried
- Hong Kong’s Status as Financial Hub Likely a Factor
- Chinese President Xi Faces Stark Choices
- Police Use of Tear Gas Is Questioned
- Live Blog: Occupy Central Protests Hit Hong Kong
“Only if Leung Chun-ying steps down can there be a new government to restart constitutional reform,” said Chan Kin-man, a co-founder of Occupy Central, the group that has been the main force calling for civil disobedience in Hong Kong.
Alongside him was Alex Chow, leader of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, who threatened to widen protests to government buildings unless Mr. Leung acknowledges protesters’ demands.
Eason Cheung Yiuwa, general secretary for the federation, said in the early hours of Wednesday there had been no communication between the student-led protest group and the government. “We’re still waiting for the government to respond,” said Mr. Cheung, 22 years old. The group didn’t intend to take further action imminently, he said, but that it was considering ways to escalate the protests if the government remained silent. “Right now we are occupying only the road.”
Some protesters worried about the potential consequences of the ultimatum.
“If Occupy spreads to more places, it may actually lessen support because there are some people who support the movement but still want to be able to go about their jobs and daily lives,” said K.Y. Chan, a 30-year-old office worker who was out with five other family members.
In his first media briefing since Sunday’s police crackdown, Mr. Leung gave no indication of backing down and said he expected the protests could last “for quite a long period of time.”
In the face of continuing protests, authorities appear to have several choices. They could allow protests go on in the hope they lose energy before the start of the next workweek, but letting them remain beyond that could be a problem.
“The longer the protesters remain on the street, the more likely that incidents will occur,” said Steve Vickers, a former senior officer in Hong Kong’s police force and now chief executive of the specialist risk and security consultancy Steve Vickers & Associates Ltd.
Forcing out protesters spread across three city districts, some of which are among the most densely populated on earth, would be a challenge for police, security experts said.
“Dispersing any kind of protest should always be the last option you look at,” said Adam Leggat, who served in the British Army for more than 20 years and now advises police forces around the world for Densus Group. “If they go for a dispersal option they have to be very, very careful how they go about it.”
Edward Schwarck, Asia fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, said one key weakness for authorities could be a police force unwilling to use heavy force against the demonstrators.
“The loyalty of the Hong Kong police is something that we should bear in mind,” he said. “The question going through Beijing’s mind is whether the Hong Kong police is the right tool to use here, and the alternative is the People’s Armed Police. They could be relied upon for a robust response.”
Mr. Leung reiterated his confidence in the city’s police force and said he doesn’t see a need to seek help from Chinese military forces, which has been a concern among many protesters. “When there are problems in Hong Kong society, our police force should be able to resolve them and we won’t need to mobilize the People’s Liberation Army,” he told reporters.
In Hong Kong’s financial sector, stocks fell 1.3% Tuesday, hitting their lowest levels in 2½ months. Several banks, including Standard Chartered Bank PLC, HSBC Holdings PLC, and Bank of China Hong Kong said their operations were affected by the protests. Several bank branches reopened, but Hong Kong’s central bank said 19 different banks kept some branches and offices closed around the city onTuesday.
Isabella Steger and Kathy Chu
contributed to this article.