Protesters gather in Hong Kong a year since mass rallies

AFP , Monday 28 Sep 2015

Hong Kong
Protesters hold yellow umbrellas during a demonstration to mark the one year anniversary of " Umbrella Movement" outside the government headquarter in Hong Kong, Monday, Sept. 28, 2015 (Photo: AP)

Yellow umbrellas and makeshift tents were back in central Hong Kong Monday as protesters gathered a year to the day since huge pro-democracy rallies brought parts of the city to a standstill.

But numbers were small in the early afternoon and with no concessions on political reform from authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong, disheartened campaigners say they do not plan to start more mass demonstrations.

Around 100 protesters gathered at the "Lennon Wall" -- an outdoor staircase near the government headquarters that was plastered with thousands of multi-coloured paper notes expressing support during the rallies.

Rows of yellow umbrellas -- symbol of the pro-democracy movement -- several tents and a huge banner reading "I Want Universal Suffrage", lined the pavements.

At the height of the protests, thousands of tents sprawled across the major highway which runs past the Lennon Wall in the financial district of Admiralty.

One couple soon to be married posed for pre-wedding photos at the former protest site, the bride-to-be wearing a strapless white wedding dress with a construction helmet -- often worn by protesters during the rallies.

Couples in the city frequently have commemorative photos taken ahead of their weddings.

"The photos will be shared with our kids and grandkids and will show them what was happening in the city at the time of our marriage," said groom Issac Kan, 29.

Monday's events were billed by activists as a time for reflection as they struggle to breathe new life into the movement.

Occupy Central was launched a year ago, calling for fully free leadership elections in the semi-autonomous city, following more than a week of student protests.

Thousands joined the already large crowds after police fired tear gas in the afternoon of September 28 last year, a move that shocked the public and galvanised the Umbrella Movement -- named after the umbrellas protesters carried to shelter from sun, rain, tear gas and pepper spray.

For more than two months the centre of the city became an entrenched rally camp.

The main anniversary rally is due to start in Admiralty mid-afternoon and there will be a moment of silence at 5:58 pm (0958 GMT) -- the time when the tear gas was fired.

Pro-Beijing groups were also due to march Monday afternoon and police will deploy around 3,000 officers to protest areas, local media reported.

Democracy rally organisers have not given turnout estimates, but commemorative events held over the weekend drew small crowds.

Those who attended voiced belief in the pro-democracy cause.

"This commemoration is not only to mark the event but also to show that Hongkongers will continue down this path," said 21-year-old university student Catherine Shek.

"The movement is going through a state of rising and falling, with many people trying different types of methods."

The protests began after China's central government said it would allow a popular vote for Hong Kong's leader in 2017, but insisted candidates were vetted.

The electoral package was voted down in June by pro-democracy lawmakers unhappy with the restrictions, leaving the territory with its existing system where the leader is chosen by a pro-Beijing election committee.

Hong Kong has been governed under a "one country, two systems" arrangement since it was handed back to China by Britain in 1997.

It allows far greater civil liberties than on the Chinese mainland, but there are growing fears those freedoms are being eroded.

Amnesty International called Monday for Beijing to release eight mainland activists detained for supporting last year's protests.

Their support included posting messages and pictures online and holding banners in public with messages, Amnesty said.

It comes after Human Rights Watch last week called for an "independent and thorough investigation" into the Hong Kong government's handling of the Umbrella Movement.

A number of the city's activists are facing court cases over the protests while police officers allegedly involved in beating a protester have yet to be prosecuted.

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