Protesters reach out to US for help

Thousands sing ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ and call on Trump to ‘liberate’ Hong Kong amid more violent clashes in Chinese-ruled city

A protester holds up a sign featuring US President Donald Trump in Hong Kong on Sunday
A protester holds up a sign featuring US President Donald Trump in Hong Kong on Sunday
Image: REUTERS/KAI PFAFFENBACH

Thousands of Hong Kong protesters on Sunday sang the US national anthem, The StarSpangled Banner, and called on President Donald Trump to “liberate” the Chinese-ruled city, before violence broke out in the latest in a three-month series of clashes and unrest.

The protest started peacefully but fell into a now familiar pattern of barricades, window-smashing and street fires, this time in the smartest banking and shopping district of the former British colony, as evening fell.

Police engaged in running battles with stone-throwing protesters who fled to nearby Admiralty, the bar district of Wan Chai and shopping area of Causeway Bay. Police stood by earlier as protesters, under a sea of umbrellas against the sub-tropical sun, waved the Stars and Stripes flag and placards demanding democracy.

“Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong,” they shouted before handing over petitions at the US Consulate.

US defence secretary Mark Esper on Saturday urged China to exercise restraint in Hong Kong, 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 teargas for a second night running in the densely populated district of Mong Kok.

Trump suggested in August that China should “humanely” settle the problem in Hong Kong before a trade deal was reached with Washington.

Earlier, Trump called the protests “riots” that were a matter for China to deal with.

Police have responded to violence over 14 weeks with water cannon, rubber bullets and teargas.

Riot police cleared the Central MTR metro station, near Sunday’s march, where activists smashed a long glass panel at a station entrance and other windows, and daubed graffiti on the walls outside. Several arrests were made. Activists dug up bricks from pathways to break windows and set fires from cardboard boxes on the streets, building barricades with metal fencing.

Hundreds of others milled about surrounding streets lined with banks, jewellery shops and top-brand shopping arcades.

Hong Kong returned to China under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, but many residents fear Beijing is eroding that autonomy.

China denies the accusation of meddling and has denounced the protests, accusing the US and Britain of fomenting unrest , and warned of the damage to the economy.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced concessions last 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.

The demonstrations have long since broadened into calls for democracy.

US 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 this 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 US 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.

Protesters, in a petition handed to the US Consulate, urged that it be passed in full.

Trump alternates between praising Chinese President Xi Jinping as a great leader and casting him as an enemy, while attacking China for taking advantage of US businesses.

Beijing announced top officials would head to Washington in early October for talks aimed at ending the trade war, which has roiled markets and hammered global growth.

Joshua Wong, one of the leaders of the pro-democracy “Umbrella” movement five years ago, was rearrested at the airport on Sunday on return from Germany and the US for breaching bail conditions, he said. –Reuters

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