Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Hong Kong in a march seen as a test of the enduring appeal of an anti-government movement about to mark six months of demonstrations.
Chanting “Fight for freedom” and “Stand with Hong Kong”, a sea of protesters formed a huge human snake winding through the Causeway Bay shopping district on Sunday.
The protest ground to a standstill at times, with thousands of marchers crammed into the narrow streets, their cries of “Revolution in our times” echoing off the high-rise towers.
Many held up five fingers to press their five demands, which include democratic elections for Hong Kong’s leader and legislature.
The huge turnout was reminiscent of marches in the first two months of the movement that drew hundreds of thousands of people and upward of a million by organiser estimates.
Police banned the mass marches as the protests turned increasingly violent, but relented and allowed Sunday’s march after a few weeks of relative peace.
The protests began almost six months ago by a government decision to submit legislation that would have allowed the extradition of criminal suspects to the mainland.
Activists saw it as an erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” formula implemented in 1997, when the UK returned the territory to China.
The bill has been withdrawn, but the protests have expanded into a wider resistance movement against what is perceived as the growing control of Hong Kong by China, along with calls for full democracy for the territory.
“One of our problems is that the government is not chosen by us, so they do not have to respond to our demands,” said Kelly Ma, adding that demonstrating has become a regular part of her life.
Officers in riot gear deployed in numbers on the edges of Sunday's march.
Earlier in the day, they arrested 11 people and seized a cache of weapons, including a firearm with more than 100 bullets.
Rally organiser Eric Lai called on police to exercise self-restraint and not fire tear gas.
Authorities, who have used tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets at previous demonstrations, say the force has been necessary to disperse protesters blocking streets, vandalising shops and throwing homemade petrol bombs.
The rally was called by the Civil Human Rights Front, a group that has organised some of the biggest demonstrations since hundreds of thousands of protesters first marched on June 9 against now-withdrawn government proposals that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent for trial in Communist Party-controlled courts in mainland China.
“We hope this will be a signature for our movement after six months to show to (Hong Kong leader) Carrie Lam as well as to the world that people are not giving up, people will still fight for our freedom and democracy,” Mr Lai said as protesters gathered at Victoria Park for the march.
A Communist Party official, meeting in Beijing on Saturday with Hong Kong’s new police commissioner, said China would fully support the Hong Kong police’s strict law enforcement and “unremitting efforts in restoring social order”, China’s official Xinhua News Agency reported.