HONG KONG (AP) — Hundreds of silver-haired activists joined young Hong Kong protesters for a unity rally Saturday, vowing their monthslong movement will not fade away until there is greater democracy in the Chinese territory.
The rally at a park downtown was among several peaceful gatherings by protesters this week to keep up pressure on the government amid a lull in violence following a local election victory by the pro-democracy bloc and the gaining of U.S. support for their cause.
A local boys' band belted out songs to tell protesters "the whole Hong Kong is supporting you." Speakers reminded the crowd it wasn't time to celebrate and the fight for real autonomy must persist.
The protesters are angry over creeping Chinese interference in Hong Kong they said is eroding their rights promised when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
"The government wants us to desert the front-liners and young protesters, but we will stick with them," rally organizer Tam Kwok-sun, 64, said to loud cheers from the crowd. "Sometimes their actions are violent and aggressive, but we are more unhappy with the government's behavior."
Since the unrest broke out in June, protesters have disrupted traffic, smashed public facilities and pro-China shops, and hurled gasoline bombs in pitched battles with riot police who have responded with volleys of tear gas and water cannons.
The occupation of several universities by protesters earlier this month after fiery clashes with police capped one of the most violent chapters in the turmoil, which has contributed to the city's first recession in a decade.
Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, has appealed for the current calm to continue but has refused to bow to protesters' demands, which include free elections for her post and the legislature as well as an independent probe into alleged police brutality.
"It's still a very early stage of the revolution," a masked activist, who gave her name as Mai, 26, said Saturday. "People are tired physically and mentally, so we are waiting for the right moment for a fightback."
Hong Kong police have arrested 5,890 people as a result of the protests.