For first time in a long time, massive protest ends without tear gas

Protesters walk along a street during a rally in Hong Kong on August 18. Photo via AFP.
Protesters walk along a street during a rally in Hong Kong on August 18. Photo via AFP.

In what was in some ways a return to form for Hong Kong’s long-running protest movement, hundreds of thousands of people braved heavy downpours yesterday to participate in a peaceful demonstration that ultimately concluded with nary a tear gas round fired.

Organizers put the headcount for yesterday’s rally at 1.7 million, though police, as per usual, put their count much lower, at 128,000. On the ground, however, the size and density of the crowd spoke for itself, with throngs of people filling Victoria Park in an orderly show of support for the pro-democracy cause — a stark contrast to many recent protests that have repeatedly descended into unruly stone-throwing and volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets.

Even police — who have been accused of using excessive force by protesters, and who have, themselves, tried to paint protesters as having done the same — acknowledged that yesterday’s march was “generally peaceful” in a statement early this morning.

Police, however, took issue with unsanctioned marches departing from the officially permitted rally at the park that blocked traffic, and claimed that some protesters threw “hard objects” at the government office complex in Admiralty, saying they “deeply regret such acts.”

The government, for its part, also appeared to admit through gritted teeth that yesterday’s protest had gone off peacefully, while likewise calling attention to blocked traffic and the purported “inconvenience to the community.”

However, it didn’t appear any more willing to meaningfully engage with protesters’ demands — which include, among other things, the complete withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill, and an investigation into police’s use of force — than it did after record-breaking marches back in June, when the movement kicked off in earnest.

“The Government reiterated that it was most important to restore social order as soon as possible,” it’s brief statement read. “It added that it will begin sincere dialogue with the public, mend social rifts, and rebuild social harmony when everything has calmed down.”

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