HONG KONG (AP) — Hundreds of pro-Beijing supporters in Hong Kong on Sunday sang the Chinese national anthem and waved red flags ahead of China’s National Day to counter pro-democracy protests that have challenged Beijing’s rule.
The show of support for Beijing came after another day of violence in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory that sparked fears of more ugly scenes that could embarrass Chinese President Xi Jinping as his ruling Communist Party marks its 70th year in power on Tuesday. Pro-democracy advocates have called for a major rally to coincide with the celebrations in Beijing.
Police on Saturday fired tear gas and water cannons after protesters threw bricks and firebombs at government buildings following a massive rally in downtown Hong Kong. The clashes were part of a familiar cycle since protests began in June over a now-shelved extradition bill and have since snowballed into an anti-China movement with demands for democratic reforms.
Protesters are planning to march on Tuesday despite a police ban. Many said they will wear mourning black in a direct challenge to the authority of the Communist Party, with posters calling for Oct. 1 to be marked as “A Day of Grief.”
Later Sunday, protesters also plan to gather for an “anti-totalitarianism” rally against what they denounced as “Chinese tyranny.” Similar events are being organized in over 60 cities worldwide including in the U.S., U.K., Australia and Taiwan.
Hong Kong’s government has already scaled down National Day celebrations in the city, cancellng an annual firework display and moving a reception indoor.
Despite security concerns, the government said Sunday that Chief Executive Carrie Lam will lead a delegation of over 240 people to Beijing on Monday to participate in the festivities. She will be represented by Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung in her absence and return to the city on Tuesday evening.
Lam held her first community dialogue with the public on Thursday in a bid to diffuse tensions but failed to persuade protesters, who vowed to press on until their demands including direct elections for the city’s leader and police accountability are met.
Several hundred people, many wearing red and carrying Chinese flags and posters, gathered at a waterfront cultural center in the city on Sunday and chanted “I am a citizen of China.” They sang the national anthem and happy birthday to China. They were later bused to the Victoria Peak hilltop for the same repertoire.
Organizer Innes Tang said the crowd, all Hong Kong citizens, responded to his invitation on social media to “promote positivity and patriotism.” He said they wanted to rally behind Chinese sovereignty and urged protesters to replace violence with dialogue.
“We want to take this time for the people to express our love for our country China. We want to show the international community that there is another voice to Hong Kong” apart from the protests, he said.
Mobs of pro-Beijing supporters have appeared in malls and on the streets in recent weeks to counter pro-democracy protesters, leading to brawls between the rival camps.
Many people view the extradition bill, that would have sent criminal suspects to mainland China for trial, as a glaring example of the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” policy when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
China has denied chipping away at Hong Kong’s freedom and accused the U.S. and other foreign powers of fomenting the unrest to weaken its dominance.
In Beijing on Sunday, former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa was recognized for devoting himself to the implementation of the “one country, two systems” policy. Tung, the first leader after Hong Kong’s return to China, was among 42 people who received national medals and honors from Xi for their contributions to the country.
Associated Press journalists Ken Moritsugu in Beijing and Katie Lam and John Leicester in Hong Kong contributed to this report.