HONG KONG – Another massive march in Hong Kong, this time held in an enclave frequented by Chinese tourists and connected by high-speed railway to the mainland, turned chaotic on Sunday night after a smaller group of protesters occupied a major shopping road and were forcibly cleared by police.
The protesters hoped to take their grievances against Beijing directly to its people and tried to engage with visitors from the mainland. Chanting "free Hong Kong," the crowd marched in Tsim Sha Tsui, a tourist-heavy, mall-dotted neighborhood, toward a railway terminus that connects the semiautonomous territory to mainland China. Organizers estimated the turnout at 230,000 people. Police put the crowd size at its peak at around 56,000.
The crowd was larger than expected, pushing groups of protesters into roads that were not sanctioned for the march. By night, a small crowd had occupied streets in the area in defiance of riot police - prompting officers to tackle and beat some with batons. At least three were arrested, according to local press.
The scenes marked the latest in an escalating crisis that has gripped Hong Kong for more than a month, with determined protesters on one side and their Beijing-backed government and police on the other.
The protesters marched to the West Kowloon station, which opened in September and is subject to Chinese laws. It connects to China's snaking, billion-dollar high-speed rail network, with stops in Shenzhen, Guangzhou, Beijing and other cities.
Along their route, volunteers handed out posters advertising the upheaval in the city over the past weeks, sparked by a now-suspended bill that would allow extraditions to the mainland. They designed leaflets in the simplified Chinese characters, widely used in the mainland and shouted the purpose of their march over loudspeakers in Mandarin, China's official language, rather than the Cantonese of Hong Kong. Some even used Apple's Airdrop service to share photos and demands with nearby Apple devices.
"Our idea is to spread messages to travelers and tourists, especially those from the mainland," said Yoanna, a 17-year-old student who declined to give her last name for fear of retribution. "We know that mainlanders will support us, but maybe they can't get information on what is going on."
News in China has been highly censored since massive student-led pro-democracy demonstrations at Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989. Chinese internet users attempting to find information about the ongoing Hong Kong protests have found their queries blocked.
State media has instead published stories that show widespread support in Hong Kong for mainland China, often completely false.
Sustained protests have rocked the territory for more than a month. Chief executive Carrie Lam paused the extradition proposal after the first week of marches but has declined to fully withdraw it or to step down, as protesters demand.