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Hong Kong hills shine with protest lights in festival-themed rally

File photo. Photograph:( Reuters )

AFP Hong Kong, China Sep 13, 2019, 10.52 PM (IST)

Thousands of Hong Kong pro-democracy activists used torches, lanterns and laser pens to light up some of the city's best-known hillsides on Friday night in an eye-catching protest alongside an annual festival.

Friday evening marks the start of the mid-autumn festival, one of the most important dates in the Chinese calendar, and is traditionally a time for thanksgiving, spending time with family and praying for good fortune.

But as Hong Kong convulses from more than three months of political unrest, activists used the night as a way to keep their movement buoyant with no signs of protests abating.

Throughout the evening, thousands of activists with torches on their heads hiked up hill trails leading to the top of Lion Rock, which overlooks the sprawling skyscrapers of the city's Kowloon district, one of the most densely populated places on earth.

They also gathered to form a long human chain on the Peak -- a popular tourist spot which offers picture-postcard views of Hong Kong and its dramatic waterfront.

Both groups, whose lights were visible to each other across the harbour, chanted slogans and sang "Glory to Hong Kong", an anonymously penned protest anthem which has gone viral in recent days.

Other crowds gathered in parks across the city and along the harbourfront, shining mobile phone lights, lasers and lanterns.

"Today's autumn festival is a symbol of family and togetherness, so this is in the spirit of gathering the power of the Hong Kong people," a 24-year-old protester, who gave his surname Yip, told AFP as he sweated his way to the top of Lion Rock in the unforgiving sticky evening heat.

"We are going to fight with Hong Kong and fight for freedom," added another protester, who gave his surname Shum. 

On the Peak, protester Wan Luk said she skipped the traditional meal with her family.

"I think Hong Kong people need to unite their power, so I came out," she said.

Weeks of protest

Hong Kong has been battered by nearly 100 days of protests, sparked by a now-abandoned plan to allow extraditions to the mainland.

After local leaders and Beijing took a hard line, the movement snowballed into wider calls for democracy, police accountability and a halt to eroding freedoms in what is the greatest challenge to Beijing's rule since the 1997 handover.

Millions have taken part in huge, largely peaceful demonstrations.

But smaller groups of hardline protesters have fought increasingly violent battles with riot police and vandalised subway stations in scenes that have sent shockwaves through the once-stable financial hub.

The city is now deeply polarised with fights frequently breaking out between different political camps.

Under a deal signed with Britain ahead of the city's 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong is allowed to keep its unique freedoms for 50 years.

But democracy activists accuse Beijing of reneging on those promises by ramping up political control over the semi-autonomous territory.

Protests to continue

City leader Carrie Lam made the surprise move last week to fully scrap the loathed extradition law -- but the gesture was dismissed by protesters as too little, too late.

On Friday evening, in one of the protest movement's more surreal moments, small groups of demonstrators gathered on a housing estate where Lam was visiting, shouting "We want to eat mooncakes".

Residents told local media Lam had made a brief visit to a nearby elderly home to distribute mooncakes, a dense pastry handed out during the mid-autumn festival.

Activists and analysts say the movement will only end when some of the other key demands are met such as an inquiry into the police, an amnesty for the nearly 1,400 people arrested and universal suffrage.

There is little sign of Beijing ceding to those demands or the protests abating.

Plans by demonstrators to hold rallies on Saturday and Sunday have been rejected by the police.

But previous bans have simply been ignored by the masses and clashes with police have quickly followed.

On Sunday, protesters had planned to march through the city while a separate, smaller demonstration was planned outside the British consulate in a bid to call on London to do more to protect the former colony from Beijing's tightening grip.Student groups have also called for a week-long general strike starting on 1 October, when leaders in Beijing will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of communist China. 

Story highlights

Friday evening marks the start of the mid-autumn festival, one of the most important dates in the Chinese calendar, and is traditionally a time for thanksgiving, spending time with family and praying for good fortune.