(HONG KONG) — Protesters who’ve taken pro-democracy demonstrations to the streets of Hong Kong every weekend since early June are preparing for another tumultuous weekend in the city of 7.4 million people as they refuse to buckle to Beijing’s demands to curb their rebellion.
Thousands of protesters are expected to take to the streets, possibly blocking major roadways, including those leading to Hong Kong International Airport.
On Thursday, thousands of high school and university students boycotted classes and joined the protest, filling a square in downtown Hong Kong and breaking into chants of “revolution of our times” and “liberate Hong Kong.”
“I think it symbolizes fighting for freedom,” one of the high school students, who asked not to be identified, told ABC News of what the protests meant to her.
She said she is participating in the demonstrations despite her parents discouraging her.
“If it’s my parents, they don’t actually support me. They think I’m here to ruin everything,” the student said.
Last weekend saw one of the largest protests yet as tens of thousands packed Hong Kong’s Victoria Park on Sunday. Organizers of the demonstration claimed 1.7 million people participated, but police, according to Hong Kong Free Press, put the number at only 128,000.
The protests began June 9, when hundreds of thousands of mostly young people marched against a proposed extradition bill that would allow individuals to be sent from semi-autonomous Hong Kong to mainland China for trial. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has since suspended the bill, but the movement has continued and protesters’ demands have expanded to include a call for universal suffrage and an independent investigation into police brutality.
The demonstrators have also asked Lam to resign and allow a democratic election to elect her successor.
Many demonstrators said they’re worried that their freedoms will continue to erode as China’s Communist Party-ruled central government keeps flexing its muscle in Hong Kong, the former British colony given back to China in 1997 that’s become a global financial hub.
Standard Chartered and HSBC, two of the largest financial institutions in the world that have offices in Hong Kong, broke their silence about the protests on Thursday by taking out full-page ads in Hong Kong newspapers, calling for a peaceful resolution.
Under the constitutional principle of “One Country, Two Systems,” China had agreed to keep its hands off the freedoms Hong Kong residents have enjoyed as a semi-autonomous territory. But protesters said the Chinese government has exercised its power to curb democracy in Hong Kong in violation of the agreement.
Clashes between protesters and police grew more intense earlier this month when demonstrators organized a city-wide strike and stormed Hong Kong International Airport, forcing flight cancellations at one of the world’s busiest airport for two days.
On Aug. 13, violent clashes erupted between protesters and paramilitary police at the airport. Baton-wielding officers were caught on video using force on demonstrators to take back control of the airport.
Chinese officials alleged that protesters “have begun to show signs of terrorism,” and China appeared to be weighing a crackdown on the democratic movement.
Student protesters have told ABC News they’ve been subject to mysterious, anonymous intimidation efforts, including fliers posted in their neighborhoods listing their home addresses and accusing them of everything from “causing chaos” to incest. They say they’ve even received messages threatening that their families will be killed.
One protester, Keith Fong, 20, described to ABC News how he was arrested and allegedly physically assaulted by police for buying laser pointers.
Another protester, Kex Leung, 22, said he believes violence in Hong Kong may be inevitable, but he hopes it doesn’t come to that.
“I am willing to give my life,” Leung told ABC News last week, “but not my family’s.”
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