(HONG KONG) — Thousands of people stood elbow to elbow chanting “Power to the People!” on a humid night in central Hong Kong on Friday, as anti-government protests that began here in early June and led to a shutdown of the city’s busy international airport this week showed no signs of slowing down.
In the first of several protests planned for this weekend, demonstrators chanted “Stand with Hong Hong,” a message they said was directed at the United States and the United Kingdom, the city’s former colonial power which passed control of the city to China in 1997.
Police denied permission for a rally that was expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people on Sunday, but protesters are expected to go ahead with it anyway.
“I will sacrifice my life for this movement because we are protecting our home,” one of the protesters, Keith Fong, 20, told ABC News earlier in the day.
Another protester, 19-year-old Zoey Leung, said she worries about the safety of her friends and loved ones amid the demonstrations, and the increasingly violent police crackdown, but had no intention of backing down.
“Chasing democracy and freedom is the nature of humans,” she said. “There is no turning back for Hong Kongers nowadays.”
Protests erupted on the island 10 weeks ago over a controversial bill that would have allowed accused criminals to be extradited to countries where Hong Kong does not have an existing arrangement. That would have included mainland China, sparking concern over potential human rights abuses, and unearthing a deep-seated distrust for many in Hong Kong. Its embattled and deeply unpopular leader, Carrie Lam, suspended work on the bill but has refused to legally withdraw it.
The activists have also called on Lam to resign.
Lam has condemned the protests and said the marchers were using opposition to the extradition bill as an excuse to undermine Beijing’s sovereignty in Hong Kong to “destroy the way of life cherished by the 7 million [residents].”
On Monday, thousands of protesters rallied and held sit-ins at Hong Kong’s international airport, a main hub for business travelers in Asia and among the busiest airports in the world. The protests were broken up by riot police and planes were grounded for the better part of two days.
On Friday, Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways announced the resignation of two of its top officials, including its CEO Rupert Hogg, following reports that airline employees had joined in with the protests.
In a statement posted on Friday, the airline said that “recent events have called into question Cathay Pacific’s commitment to flight safety and security and put our reputation and brand under pressure.” The statement said the airline is “fully committed to Hong Kong under the principal of ‘One Country Two Systems,'” which refers to China’s pledge to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy and way of life when it resumed control of the city.
Also on Friday, Alain Robert, a Frenchman whose reputation for scaling skyscrapers has earned him the nickname Spiderman, scaled Hong Kong’s 62-story Cheung Kong Centre and unveiled a banner a banner with the flags of both China and Hong Kong, the BBC reported.
“Perhaps what I do can lower the temperature and maybe raise a smile. That’s my hope anyway,” Mr Robert said in a media statement.
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