High school students in Hong Kong added gas masks, goggles and hard hats to their formal white uniforms as they planned a strike on the first day of school Monday to show their commitment to a fiery anti-government protest movement. The nearly three months of youth-dominated protests in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory calling for democracy and an independent inquiry into police conduct will be tested as classes resume after the summer break for many of the youthful protesters. A strike was scheduled for Monday afternoon for student protesters to skip classes and congregate at a public square in central Hong Kong.
At St. Francis’ Canossian College, a girls’ school, uniformed students kneeled in a line and held up hand-painted signs that read: “The five major demands: Not one is dispensable.” Hong Kong Education Secretary Kevin Yeung said he hoped students will stay in class. “Schools should not be used as places for political demands or exercising pressure,” Yeung said at a government briefing.
The protesters’ demands include dropping charges against demonstrators who have been arrested and formally withdrawing an extradition bill that would allow Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China to stand trial. The appeals are undergirded by a sense among some Hong Kong residents that the Communist Party-ruled mainland government has been eroding the autonomy and civil liberties promised when the former British colony was returned to China in 1997.
Some demonstrators disrupted the morning commute by blocking train doors, attempting to evade riot police who were hot on their heels by moving quickly between multiple public transit stations. Officers at Lok Fu station hit protesters with batons and arrested one. Another three were arrested at Lai King station.
On Sunday, the MTR Corp. suspended train service to the airport after several hundred protesters gathered their following calls online to disrupt transportation. They blocked buses arriving at the airport but police in riot helmets kept them out of the terminal.
After protesters allegedly vandalized ticketing machines and in Prince Edward Station on Sunday, video footage showed police storming into the station and beating up, pepper spraying and arresting passengers whom police said they believed to be violent demonstrators. Clashes between police and protesters have become increasingly violent, as the self-described “front-line” demonstrators use petrol bombs and throw rods at officers. Authorities in turn have employed a water cannon, tear gas, rubber bullets and batons.
The protesters say that a degree of violence is necessary to get the government’s attention after peaceful rallies were futile. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s administration, however, maintains that the violence must first end before any fruitful dialogue can begin.“We always say that we must stop the violence right away, and then kick off the dialogue,” said Administration Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-Chung.