Protests choke Hong Kong

Hong Kong police on Monday urged the protestors occupying the city's financial areas to disperse soon and peacefully.

Hundreds and thousands of protesters, including many high school and college students, continued to protest on the second day at the main streets of Causeway Bay, Mong Kok and Central, usually the busiest areas in the city.

The protests, aiming at a "genuine democracy" and withdrawal of the decision on Hong Kong's constitutional development made by China's top legislature, were condemned by the State Council's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office as illegal and for "undermining social order and stability."

According to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) government, the crowds had calmed down on Monday and the riot police have been withdrawn Monday morning, after police fired 87 tear gas shells to obstruct protestors Sunday night.

Some 41 people, including 12 police officers, have been injured, police said in a Monday statement, adding that police officers had "exercised restraint" and "performed their duties in a professional manner."

The police claimed to have used the minimum force necessary such as baton, tear gas and pepper spray. They said officers never used plastic bullets and would not impose a midnight curfew. Hong Kong and foreign media outlets have widely blamed excessive force from the police for escalating protests and bringing thousands more people onto the street.

The police urged the protestors to stay calm, and to "stop charging" police cordon lines and disperse, as the long time blockage has seriously affected people's daily life, public transport and emergency service.

Pictures of protestors raising their hands non-violently when confronted by police, in a gesture that originated in the US Ferguson protests, have been widely circulated.

The SAR government on Monday canceled a Victoria Harbour fireworks display scheduled on October 1 for celebration of National Day, anticipating that main access roads leading to hotspots for viewing the display may continue to be blocked.

The city is struggling to cope with the impact of the protests. Traffic to the city's business district Central and Admiralty and Wan Chai, where the city's financial hub and the SAR government are located, have been blocked.

More than 200 bus routes have been suspended or re-routed.

Commuters were struggling to get to their offices due to blocked roads and the subway trains are crowded. A local citizen told the Global Times that she has to wait for 20 minutes to get on a train to Central station.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng Index sank 2.2 percent at one point before paring some of the losses to end 1.9 percent lower and local dollar hit a six-month low against the greenback, the AFP reported.

A total of 36 branches, offices or ATMs of 20 banks located in the sit-in areas were closed in Monday morning.

 

Protesters sit on a road as they face-off with local police on Monday in Hong Kong. Demonstrators expanded their rallies throughout Hong Kong on Monday while police urged crowds to disperse. Photo: AP

"Not only have normal work and life been affected, tourism and retailers' expected sale in National Day holiday will also be influenced by the long-time protests," protest witness, Lam Yungho, a clothes shop owner in Mong Kok, told the Global Times.

Lam said she heard people arguing loudly and angrily about the Occupy movement and her customers have drastically decreased.

She said she opposed the movement, and had been labeled as not "contributing to the city" by supporters.

The society will be more divided after all this, not only between normal people, but also between police and the people, and the government and the people, Gu Minkang, a professor of law with Hong Kong City University, told the Global Times on Monday.

The civil servants working in government headquarters in Admiralty have received an e-mail telling that "in light of the building up of crowds around CGO [Central Government Complex] and in the vicinity of Admiralty, staffs are advised to leave office as soon as possible."

All schools in Wan Chai and Central and Western districts suspended class on Monday.

The impetus for the protests initially came from disputes over the electoral process planned for 2017, specifically the nomination threshold approved by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in August.

They planned to seal off the city's financial center on the National Day to push their demands, but the movement has extended far beyond Central and moved ahead of schedule after a wave of student protest that began with a boycott on September 22.

"They [the activists] won't be able to change the NPC's decisions by street battles. They must take part in constructive discussions with the government," said Ip Lau Suk-yee, also known as Regina Ip, a Hong Kong legislator and former security chief, adding that extreme measures will produce no positive effect but will only affect the livelihood of Hong Kong society.

The Chinese foreign ministry once again emphasized that no other country should intervene in Hong Kong's affairs. The ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said that "Hong Kong is China's Hong Kong" and no country should support the illegal Occupy movement by any means.

The UK Foreign Office said on Monday it is "monitoring events in Hong Kong," is concerned about the situation, and encourages all parties to engage in constructive criticism.

The US consulate general stated on Sunday it strongly supports Hong Kong's well-established traditions and Basic Law protections of freedom but doesn't take sides.

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