Hong Kong streets were turned into rivers of umbrellas on Sunday as hundreds of thousands of people marched through heavy rain down a major road in the Chinese territory, where massive pro-democracy demonstrations have become a regular weekend activity. Organizers said at least 1.7 million participated, though the police estimate was far lower.
The assembly was peaceful, with no reports of violence, making for a rare calm weekend in a protest movement that has been marked by violent clashes with police. Law enforcement officers kept a low profile, with no riot police seen from the procession’s main routes. When stragglers convened outside a government complex in the late evening, other protesters urged them to go home.
Demonstrators who were shining laser pointers at a government building were convinced to leave, prompting applause from others in the group.
“We hope to see whether the government gives a response to this peaceful protest,” said Michael Leung, a 24-year-old who was ushering his fellow demonstrators away. “If we get a negative response, we cannot control the next (gathering).”
Organizer Bonnie Leung of the Civil Human Rights Front said earlier in the day that she hoped there would be no “chaotic situations.”
“We hope we can show the world that Hong Kong people can be totally peaceful,” she said.
The Civil Human Rights Front had organized three previous massive marches in Hong Kong since June. The movement, however, has been increasingly marked by clashes with police as demonstrators vent their frustrations over what they perceive to be the government’s blatant refusal to respond to their demands.
“Peace is the No. 1 priority today,” said Kiki Ma, a 28-year-old accountant who participated in the march. “We want to show that we aren’t like the government.”
While police granted approval for the rally, they did not approve an accompanying march. Demonstrators nevertheless fanned out and filled the streets, as there was not enough space at the designated assembly area.
Public transit trains did not stop at stations near the assembly because of overcrowding.
Hundreds of thousands turn out for peaceful Hong Kong protest