Tens of thousands of protesters converged in Hong Kong on Saturday night as police tried to block many from joining a pro-democracy rally. The protest, which organizers estimated drew about 50,000 people, led to the arrest of at least 70 and brought police out in droves to guard the government headquarters building where the protests had converged.
They were demanding fully democratic elections in 2017.
The protest, which went into early Sunday, is in response to the central Beijing government’s voting reform restrictions. Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to Communist China control in 1997 and has had a series of conflicts since the handover related to freedom of speech and other democratic pillars like free elections.
Much of the Hong Kong public had expected the protests on Wednesday, but organizer Benny Tai told the Sunday Times that they wanted to “begin a new era together–an era of civil disobedience.” Wednesday was China’s National Day.
Tai said that a social movement needs momentum.
“…you have to respond to the situation of the society. We just need to respond to the very enthusiastic citizens.”
It has been promised in the past by China that Hong Kong’s highest political leader can be elected through universal suffrage. In August, the Chinese legislature decided that the public wouldn’t be allowed to nominate candidates. They have said instead that candidates will pre-selected by Beijing loyalists.
The visceral reaction to the decision has come largely from the young student population of Hong Kong, many of whom are adamant democracy supporters.
It was originally supposed to be a sit-in to bring the Asian financial markets to a standstill, but protesters changed tacks and joined forces with a different group of student demonstrators.
Protesters have labeled themselves under the moniker of “Occupy Central” and have been staking out the streets surrounding government headquarters. Occupy Central’s main demand is that Hong Kong reverse its decision about elections and allow for a truly democratic process to go forward.
The original groups of protesters, who stormed the government complex courtyard late on Friday, were pepper sprayed by police and dozens were arrested.
Media have not been allowed into the restricted zone where many Hong Kong protesters remained through Saturday night, but photos on social media showed exhausted people sleeping on the ground near police barricades. Numerous photos and comments showed protesters being dragged away by police. There is no word on whether the Hong Kong protests will continue but it appeared on Sunday that was still possible.