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Hong Kong Protesters Join Hands to Form Human Chains Across the City

HONG KONG — Hong Kong residents on Friday night formed human chains across large parts of the city in a call for direct elections, a test of the continuing strength of the monthslong protest movement and a display that recalled a major anti-Soviet demonstration from 30 years ago.

Participants fanned out across three routes over densely populated sections of Hong Kong Island, Kowloon and the New Territories. Organizers said more than 135,000 people had participated, covering a total length of about 35 miles.

The plans developed quickly online this week after a march on Sunday drew hundreds of thousands who demonstrated in the rain, a sign that protesters had not been dissuaded by a police ban or warnings from the Chinese government.

People taking part in the #HongKongWay protest in Kwun Tong started singing classic protest song – Boundless Ocean, Vast Sky (海闊天空). One of the lines goes “forgive me for being wild and freedom-loving my whole life, how would I fear that I would fall down some day?” #HongKong

— Jimmy Choi (@jimcyf) August 23, 2019

Participants on Friday sang protest songs and chanted slogans. While many joined hands, others held up their cellphones to illuminate the lines of people. Several held signs with flags of foreign nations and the phrase, “Thank you for supporting freedom and democracy!”

They lined up along Victoria Harbor and on Lion Rock, the peak that overlooks the Kowloon Peninsula. They stood amid apartment towers and on busy shopping streets, beside drinkers spilling out of bars and office workers heading home after work.

ImageCreditLam Yik Fei for The New York Times

“I want to deliver a message to the world that we are peaceful,” said Lee Kin, 29, an insurance company employee who joined the chain in the Wanchai neighborhood on Hong Kong Island. “Even though I support fighting violently against the Chinese Communist Party, if we can demonstrate peacefully, we can get more support from the rest of the world.”

The event followed a variety of protest efforts, including marches, petitions, advertisements in international publications and walkways filled with art, as well as more confrontational actions such as defacing government buildings, clashing with the police and blocking roadways and trains.

Elsa Lam, 44, a clerk in the catering industry, said she seldom joined protests, but had brought her 8-year-old son, Aiden, to the gathering in the Causeway Bay neighborhood.

“I came out with him today because I’m worried that he can no longer enjoy freedom of assembly when he grows up,” she said.

Paul Au, 62, the owner of a small record store, previously participated in several protest movements in Hong Kong, including after the deadly crackdown on the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. None of those, he said, were as large as the demonstrations that have taken place this summer.

ImageCreditLam Yik Fei for The New York Times

“We have shown today that we are very peaceful, so let’s see what they can do to us,” Mr. Au said after joining protesters in the Sham Shui Po neighborhood. “The whole world is watching, you know. The people who are right will win. Justice wins.”

A spreadsheet posted online asked likely participants where they planned to go, then calculated where turnout would be above or below expectations, in order to direct people to empty spots in the chain. In some places where the numbers were too large, the line snaked into side streets then back onto the main route.

The demonstration was a display “of the solidarity and unity of Hong Kong people,” said Joshua Wong, a prominent activist.

“The turnout today was really a surprise,” he said. “We just had less than five days to prepare the whole Hong Kong Way action. And people peacefully gathered. Just proves: No police, we have peace.”

Friday is the 30th anniversary of the 1989 Baltic Way protest, when as many as two million residents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania formed a human chain to call for independence from the Soviet Union.

ImageCreditLam Yik Fei for The New York Times

Avoiding the fate of the Soviet Union has been a preoccupation of the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, and other Chinese officials. During a 2017 visit to Hong Kong, Mr. Xi gave a stern warning that challenging China’s sovereignty “crosses the red line.”

The organizers have not emphasized the pro-independence sentiment of the Baltic protest that inspired Friday’s event. The Hong Kong protests began over a government plan to allow extraditions to mainland China. The proposal has since been shelved, but the lack of a full withdrawal continues to drive protests.

Demands have expanded to include amnesty for arrested protesters and an investigation into police violence. Friday’s protest raised those demands, with an emphasis on others: expanding democracy in Hong Kong and making the chief executive, who is now selected by a committee of about 1,200, a directly elected position.

“The great majority of participants in protests are not advocates of Hong Kong independence,” said Willy Lam, adjunct professor at the Center for China Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “They have chosen this Baltic human chain as a symbol of unity.”

One widely read post on a bulletin board used by protesters said that while more militant protesters might find such an activity “silly,” it was important that they still participate.

“We are all Hong Kongers,” it said. “We shouldn’t divide into ‘militant’ and ‘peaceful.’ To win we must be more unified than our opponent.”


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