HONG KONG (Reuters) – Thousands of Hong Kong protesters on Sunday sang the Star Spangled Banner and called on U.S. President Donald Trump to “liberate” the Chinese-ruled city in a peaceful demonstration.
Police stood by as protesters, under a sea of umbrellas against the sub-tropical sun, waved the Stars and Stripes and placards appealing for democracy after another night of violence in the 14th week of sometimes violent unrest.
“Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong,” they shouted before handing over petitions at the U.S. Consulate. “Resist Beijing, liberate Hong Kong.”
U.S. Defence Secretary Mark Esper on Saturday urged China to exercise restraint in Hong Kong, a former British colony which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Esper made his call in Paris as police in Hong Kong prevented protesters from blocking access to the airport but fired tear gas for a second night running in the densely populated district of Mong Kok/
Last month Trump suggested China should “humanely” settle the problem in Hong Kong before a trade deal is reached with Washington. Earlier Trump called the protests “riots” that were a matter for China to deal with.
Sunday’s protest was peaceful. Police have responded to violence in recent weeks with water cannon, rubber bullets and tear gas.
Riot police cleared the Central MTR station, near Sunday’s march, where several protesters were detained and staff announced “a serious incident”.
Metro stations have been attacked recently because of televised scenes of police beating protesters on a train on Aug. 31 as they cowered on the floor.
Activists, angry that the MTR closed stations to stop protesters from gathering on the Kowloon side of the harbour and demanding CCTV footage of the beatings, have torn down signs, broken turnstiles, flooded floors and set fires on the street outside.
“With the U.S. locked in a trade war with China at this point in time, it’s a good opportunity for us to show (the United States) how the pro-China groups are also violating human rights in Hong Kong and allowing police brutality,” said Cherry, 26, who works in the financial industry, as protesters marched towards the nearby U.S. Consulate.
“We want the U.S. administration to help protect human rights in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland. Many Hong Kong residents fear Beijing is eroding that autonomy.
China denies the accusation of meddling and says Hong Kong is an internal affair. It has denounced the protests, accusing the United States and Britain of fomenting unrest, and warned of the damage to the economy.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced concessions this week aimed at ending the protests, including formally scrapping a hugely unpopular extradition bill, which ignited the unrest in June. Many protesters said it was too little, too late.
The bill would have allowed the extradition of people to mainland China to stand trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party. Hong Kong has an independent judiciary dating back to British rule.
But the demonstrations have long since broadened into calls for more democracy and many protesters have pledged to fight on.
U.S. legislation addressing China’s actions in Hong Kong will be among the top priorities pushed by Senate Democrats when Congress returns to work after a recess next week, their leader, Senator Chuck Schumer, said on Thursday.
Schumer urged Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican who sets the floor agenda, to bring up a bipartisan bill that would require an annual justification of the special treatment afforded by Washington to Hong Kong, including special trade and business privileges, under the U.S. Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992.
The legislation, called the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, would also mandate that officials in China and Hong Kong who have undermined the city’s autonomy are vulnerable to sanctions.
Trump alternates between praising Chinese President Xi Jinping as a great leader and casting him as an enemy, while excoriating China for taking advantage of U.S. businesses.
Beijing announced that top officials would head to Washington in early October to hold talks aimed at ending a tit-for-tat trade war, now in its second year, which has roiled markets and hammered global growth.