Hong Kong (AFP) – Hundreds of Hong Kong pro-democracy supporters holding yellow umbrellas held three minutes’ silence outside the city’s government offices Wednesday to mark the second anniversary of mass protests challenging Beijing.
The anniversary of the “Umbrella Revolution” comes as tensions remain high in the semi-autonomous city, with fears growing that China is tightening its grip.
Huge rallies in 2014 demanding fully free leadership elections and other democratic reforms for Hong Kong brought parts of the city to a standstill for more than two months.
Those demands were snubbed by Beijing, but since then former Umbrella Movement protesters have won seats as city lawmakers.
Some of them are now pushing for a complete break from China as the fledgling independence movement gains support.
Former Umbrella Movement protest leader Nathan Law, 23, became Hong Kong’s youngest legislator in the recent citywide elections. He now advocates self-determination for Hong Kong and was due to address crowds later Wednesday.
At 5:58 pm (0958 GMT) those gathered held three minutes’ silence to mark the time two years ago when police fired tear gas at student-led pro-democracy protesters.
That galvanised tens of thousands to come onto the streets in support.
The largely peaceful demonstrations spawned sprawling protest camps, with tents and artworks set up on highways and shopping streets.
The movement gained its name from protesters’ use of umbrellas to shield them from tear gas, pepper spray, sun and rain alike.
Supporters Wednesday said they felt the rallies had changed the city for the better.
“The Umbrella Movement transformed many in the city to care about the community, so we must make an effort to remember this incident,” said school student Joy Chan, 14.
Chan said she had taken part in the protests in 2014 — many school-age protesters joined the demonstrations and makeshift classrooms were set up so they could continue their studies.
Housewife Claire Weber, 42, said she was at the site two years ago when police fired tear gas at the crowds.
“No matter what, or how messy the political environment gets, we must persist,” she told AFP.
The atmosphere Wednesday was carnivalesque, with souvenirs including miniature yellow paper umbrellas — the symbol of the movement — handed out to those taking part.
Metres-tall signs reading “I want real universal suffrage” were displayed, an echo of the slogans of 2014.
Law said the movement had led to more political awareness for those who had been involved.
“It is very important for them to keep reminding themselves why they came out … and keep the faith in the future and stand for all the Hong Kong people,” he told AFP.
Hong Kong was handed back to China by Britain in 1997 under a semi-autonomous “one country, two systems” deal, which guaranteed its freedoms for 50 years.
But there are deep concerns those liberties are under threat in a number of areas, from politics to education and the media.