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Anger is rising as the state crackdown intensifies, and protesters say they are prepared for confrontation and sacrifice
Ryan Lee, a 27-year-old computer engineer, only started taking part in Hong Kongs demonstrations in June. Since then, it has been a steep learning curve.
He has tackled a police officer to the ground to rescue another protester, tossed teargas canisters back at the police and covered the gas grenades with the metal dishes commonly used in Hong Kong for steaming fish.
Within weeks, Lee has transformed into a militant fighter one of the black-clad protesters in full protective gear who have faced off week after week with police behind makeshift barricades. Saturday was no exception when police in riot gear stormed a metro station and used batons to beat passengers.
The governments hardline attitude is only catalysing the movement, Lee said. They might have arrested nearly 1,000 people, but there are just as many people in the frontline because they are constantly being replaced.
Since early June, Hong Kong has been embroiled in its worst political crisis in decades. The wave of protests, sparked by the controversial extradition bill under which individuals can be sent to mainland China for trial, has entered its 13th week. Over the past three months, the protests have become a broader and increasingly violent anti-government movement as the animosity between demonstrators and police reaches boiling point.
Last weekend, Lee was among those who threw teargas canisters back at the police in a violent confrontation that lasted about 40 minutes before the crowds dispersed and water cannon arrived. He said the protesters determination to fight against the police as long as they could was a show of our stance and our beliefs.
When the police abuse their powers and face no consequences, a revolution is justified, said Lee. I accept revolution and bloodshed. Revolution is a war and no war is without violence If our violence can bring about positive changes, I am willing to be involved.
Lees anger had already been fuelled by the governments refusal to fully withdraw the suspended extradition bill, the polices use of violence, and the governments failure to set up an independent body to investigate police wrongdoing.
But last week the arrests of a number of prominent pro-democracy figures along with government hints that it was thinking about a draconian emergency law allowing it to make arrests and suppress communications further enraged him. Some 900 people have been arrested since protests began.
Given the threat of the new law, and the possibility of China mobilising the Peoples Liberation Army, wasnt Lee worried that the protesters current tactics might actually lead to their existing rights being eroded? But there is no other way out: well have to burn together, he said. In a war, ordinary people always end up sacrificing.
Rock Chan, a technician and former barman, shares the same outrage. He too has been on the frontline in recent protests, providing protective gear to fellow protesters and finding escape routes for them.
The police did nothing to the white-clad men with sticks but said our umbrellas were weapons, said the 33-year-old, referring to an incident in July when masked men rushed into a metro station to attack civilians indiscriminately. (The authorities took no immediate action but did subsequently make some arrests.)
Although the government had banned Saturdays protests, has arrested pro-democracy figures and hinted at an emergency law, Chan said this would not dampen his resolve.
The more restrictions they impose on us, the stronger the pushback is, he said. I want to tell them that we will not back down and were not afraid.
Chan, who took part in the Umbrella movement in 2014, said he and others had learned from its mistakes. The 79-day protest, part of the Occupy movement, ended peacefully, after failing to pressurise the government into granting electoral reforms that would lessen mainland Chinas influence. People left the occupied thoroughfare voluntarily on the day the site was cleared. Leaders of the movement have since been jailed.
The Umbrella movement was too peaceful. Having just a bunch of people sitting there didnt pose any threat to the government, Chan said. We lost the battle completely. Now we have learned from our mistakes.