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Turnout of two million claimed in historic rally

2019-06-16 HKT 22:59
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  • Turnout of two million claimed in historic rally
  • For hours, the sea of black-clad protesters stretched all the way from Admiralty to Victoria Park. Photo: AP
    For hours, the sea of black-clad protesters stretched all the way from Admiralty to Victoria Park. Photo: AP
Jimmy Sham
Organisers of Sunday’s mass rally against the now-suspended extradition bill have claimed a record turnout of almost two million people – in an emphatic rejection of Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s attempt to placate critics of the unpopular legislation. If true, this would mean a quarter of Hong Kong's population took part, and would be the city's largest-ever rally by far.

Police later estimated the peak size of the crowd at 338,000.

A day after Lam sought to restore ‘relative calm’ to the city by suspending work on the legislation indefinitely, protesters left little doubt that they won’t be happy until the bill is scrapped entirely, and Lam steps down.

“We do not want to suspend the bill. We do not want the bill at all and we do not agree with the content of the bill,” one protester told RTHK.

Many called for Lam’s resignation, with the crowd booing and jeering upon hearing the news in the evening that Lam had apologised to the people through a government statement, for ‘causing disappointment and grief among the people’ for mishandling the extradition legislation.

Protesters are also angry at Lam’s firm backing of the use of police force against demonstrators during violent clashes on Wednesday. Dozens were injured when officers used tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and bean-bag rounds to push back swarms of protesters who had taken over multiple streets around Legco and the government's headquarters.

“We want Carrie Lam to step down, and the brutal suppression of the policemen to the press and the public must be condemned,” another demonstrator said.

Many protesters also demanded the authorities release everyone who has been arrested in connection with this week's demonstrations, and for officials to retract their classification of the unrest on Wednesday as a 'riot.'

It was clear by early afternoon that the scale of Sunday’s march would rival, or exceed last weekend’s demonstration – for which organisers claimed a turnout of over a million people.

MTR stations were packed to capacity in multiple locations, forcing the railway company to suspend operations at the worst-affected stations for a time.

Pictures showed large crowds all clad in black – the theme colour of Sunday’s rally – across the territory, all heading towards the march.

The demonstration started from Victoria Park earlier than scheduled, and huge crowds of people were spotted joining the rally midway.

The crowd grew so big that it was too much for the planned route approved by police, with protesters engulfing neighbouring streets from Wan Chai to Admiralty, including major thoroughfares such as Lockhart Road, Gloucester Road and Harcourt Road.

Many held white flowers to commemorate a man who fell to his death from scaffolding outside the Pacific Place mall the day before after putting up banners demanding Carrie Lam resign and completely withdraw the extradition bill.

Despite the unprecedented scale of the protest, the rally was largely peaceful and orderly. Buses and other vehicles that were surrounded by demonstrators when they spilled out of the approved route were quickly given space to leave — prompting some drivers to wave in appreciation.

At least one MTR train conductor also showed his approval for the marchers — announcing via intercom that while he would be unable to join them because he has to work, they should march in his stead.

And when people were overwhelmed by the heat, the crowds immediately parted to give ambulances quick access to those in need. Authorities say 20 people were sent to hospital, with one woman in a critical condition.

The last of the marchers who set out from Victoria Park only made it to Admiralty at around 11pm — just after the rally organisers, the Civil Human Rights Front, announced on stage that nearly two million people had taken part.

The organisers also warned that the people will continue to take action against the government until all the public's demands are met.

The group's convenor Jimmy Sham said, "Two million people took to the streets and our anger is clear. A protest like this has never happened in Hong Kong before. If the government doesn’t do anything, I think more people will be more angry, and their protest will only get more serious."

"Carrie Lam’s apology means nothing", he added. "It’s just a PR move. Hong Kong people don’t have trust in Carrie Lam anymore. She needs to answer our calls and resign."

Even though the front declared an end to the rally just past 11pm, thousands of people remained on the streets of Admiralty with no resistance from police, with some demonstrators vowing to remain until Carrie Lam withdraws the bill and resigns.

Last updated: 2019-06-16 HKT 23:35