|12 December, 2019

Hong Kong protesters mark six months since first major clash with police

Hundreds of Hong Kongers of all ages gathered in a central park in the heart of the Chinese-ruled city's financial district to mark the event

Anti-government protesters hold up their mobile phones during a “United We Stand” rally in Hong Kong, China, December 12, 2019.

Anti-government protesters hold up their mobile phones during a “United We Stand” rally in Hong Kong, China, December 12, 2019.

Reuters/Danish Siddiqui

HONG KONG - Hundreds of Hong Kong protesters gathered on Thursday to mark six months since their first major clash with police when they blocked legislators from advancing a detested extradition bill that has since been scrapped.

On June 12, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters occupying roads near the legislative council just as it was to give a second reading to the bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China, where courts are controlled by the Communist Party.

After the clash, the council reading was indefinitely postponed and the bill later formally withdrawn. But the outrage caused by the police response contributed to the unrest evolving into a prolonged struggle for greater democracy.

Demonstrators' demands now include universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into the police handling of the protests. Police have described their actions as reactive and restrained.

On Thursday, hundreds of Hong Kongers of all ages gathered in a central park in the heart of the Chinese-ruled city's financial district to mark the event, starting with a moment of silence with a sombre tone prevailing throughout.

"June 12 was a turning point in this movement," said Mark Chou, a 24-year-old engineer in the crowd. "We had a one million people peaceful march on June 9, but the government was still pushing the bill forward at that time. This experience taught us peaceful protest would not work in this city."

Organisers were collecting Christmas cards to be sent to people arrested during demonstrations in the past six months.

Hundreds queued at Tai Wai Po Fook Memorial Hall to lay flowers and mourn last month's death of Chow Tsz-lok, a 22-year-old student who fell from the third floor of a parking lot as protesters were being scattered by police.

In a sign the movement retains broad support, pro-democracy candidates won almost 90 percent of the seats in district council elections last month, while a peaceful march on Sunday drew 800,000 demonstrators, according to organisers.

VANDALISM

On Thursday morning, Hong Kong police said they arrested three people overnight - a 15-year-old girl, a 16-year-old boy and a 29-year-old man - in connection with vandalising public buses. A fourth person escaped, police said.

According to police reports the four boarded buses, pressed the emergency buttons, then began smashing windows with hammers.

Police also said they received reports that five people threw petrol bombs at a Japanese restaurant on the street level of a shopping mall. There were no reported injuries.

Police said several other people started a fire at a street junction in Mong Kok, an area that has regularly been the site of clashes between protesters and police.

Police did not say the vandalism was connected to the protests.

Earlier this week, police said it defused two home-made bombs it found at a centrally-located school.

Separately, the Hong Kong Football Club Rugby Section announced the cancellation of its annual rugby tens tournament, scheduled for next April, due to the unrest. The tens tournament is traditionally played ahead of the Hong Kong Rugby Sevens, with both events drawing prominent names in the rugby world.

(Writing by Kate Lamb and Marius Zaharia Editing by Gerry Doyle and Mark Heinrich) ((Kate.Lamb@thomsonreuters.com;))

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