Despite deployment of increasingly harsh tactics over the weekend aimed at forcing pro-democracy protesters off the streets of Hong Kong, by Monday it was police units forced into retreat while the number of those backing democratic reforms and promising to hold ‘central’ areas of the city appear to be growing.
Initially organized under a call to ‘Occupy Central with Peace and Love,’ the growing protest movement in Hong Kong has now also been dubbed ‘the Umbrella Revolution’ following images of protesters using their umbrellas to shield themselves from volleys of tear gas shot by riot police over the weekend. Angered by efforts by the Chinese government to bring the once autonomous region more strictly under its control, those resisting the Communist Party’s anti-democratic policies have called for greater independence and the right to vote for representation in Hong Kong without interference from Beijing.
According to the South China Morning Post:
Huge numbers of pro-democracy protesters filled the streets of Hong Kong on Monday night as an Occupy Central organiser praised them for taking over more areas of the city than he ever envisaged.
Benny Tai Yiu-ting delivered an emotional speech to massed ranks of protesters in Causeway Bay, in which he praised the achievements of the Occupy movement and renewed calls for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to step down.
Tai said that although the movement’s initial name was Occupy Central, Hongkongers had also succeeded in occupying Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok.
And CNN reports:
Thousands of pro-democracy protesters remained camped out on major highways in the heart of Hong Kong on Monday, defying government attempts to both coerce and cajole them into giving up their extraordinary demonstration.
The protests have brought widespread disruption to the heart of one of Asia’s biggest financial centers, blocking traffic on multilane roads and prompting the suspension of school classes.
A police crackdown on demonstrators on Sunday — involving tear gas, batons and pepper spray — resulted in clashes that injured more than 40 people but failed to eject the protesters from their positions among the city’s glittering skyscrapers.
The government adopted a more conciliatory approach Monday, saying it had withdrawn riot police from the protest areas. It urged people to disperse and allow traffic to return to the roads.
But the protesters, rallying against what many see as the growing influence of the Chinese Communist Party on the way Hong Kong is run, are so far refusing to budge.
Hung Ho-fung, a professor of sociology and political science at Johns Hopkins University, speaking with the Guardian newspaper, called the latest developments a “watershed moment” for Hong Kong.
“People are using civil disobedience and setting up barricades,” Ho-fund continued. “There’s also the disruptive aspect; in the past, they emphasised that demonstrations would not affect everyday life. This time they really don’t care. I really haven’t seen anything like this in Hong Kong history.”
The Guardian adds:
Crowds of demonstrators blocking key roads swelled again on Monday afternoon, despite an apparent step back by police, with others saying they planned to join the throng as soon as they finished work.
Police attempts to use teargas to clear huge protests from Admiralty and Central in downtown Hong Kong late on Sunday backfired, instead spurring more people to take to the streets, with numbers peaking in the tens of thousands. New protests sprang up in Causeway Bay and Mongkok, in Kowloon.
“What we have seen is spontaneous – without leadership, without prior organisation, of its own volition … a people’s movement. We simply want basic dignity. We simply want to be respected,” said lawmaker Alan Leong of the Civic party.
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This article originally appeared on Common Dreams.