HONG KONG — Assailed for days by China’s propaganda machine as violent thugs who must be stopped, protesters in Hong Kong paraded past the headquarters of China’s military garrison on Saturday, chanting support for a movement that Beijing views as subversive.
The protest march, billed by organizers as a “family-friendly” event, drew several thousand people, including parents and children with balloons, and avoided incendiary slogans about “retaking Hong Kong” that have angered China’s ruling Communist Party.
“Xi Jinping should come and take a look at us here, now, and then say whether we are hooligans,” said Ina Wong, a 34-year-old designer, referring to China’s hard-line leader. Ms. Wong took part in the rally along with her husband, a civil servant, and their 2-year-old son.
The march near Victoria Harbor in Hong Kong’s Central District — held a day after protesters began a three-day sit-in, also so far peaceful, at the city’s international airport — was the first in a series of protests scheduled for Saturday, and it was designed to quell fears that the city is spiraling into chaos after weeks of unrest. At least one of the demonstrations expected later in the day, unlike the one in Central, has not been authorized by the police.
A wave of protest rallies and strikes on Monday bought much of Hong Kong to a standstill as the police and demonstrators clashed in several parts of the city, prompting a barrage of warnings from the Communist Party in Beijing, and its allies in Hong Kong, that further unrest would not be tolerated.
Party-controlled newspapers in Hong Kong on Saturday published what they said was an open letter signed by more than 700 patriotic residents voicing support for the city’s police, whom protesters have accused of brutality, and demanding that the local government “swiftly stop this chaotic situation.”
The letter, and a series of small counterprotests in support of the government, followed a demand last week from Beijing’s top official responsible for Hong Kong that China’s supporters in the former British colony speak out against the protest movement and mobilize to resist any concessions to its demands.
Those demands include the resignation of Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, as well as an independent inquiry into the police’s conduct and the full withdrawal of the extradition bill that sparked the protests.
China’s characterization of the Hong Kong protests as “turmoil” — the same word it used to describe protests in Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989 — has fueled rumors that another crackdown was being planned, although few expect China to send in the People’s Liberation Army, as it did to crush the student-led Tiananmen movement 30 years ago.
In what is fast becoming a struggle to define the image of the Hong Kong protests, protesters on Saturday took what they say is their peaceful intent to the doorstep of the army’s garrison in the center of Hong Kong, located in a compound that was used by British forces until the former colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Watched by a lone Chinese soldier with an assault rifle guarding the gate to the compound, the protesters, some pushing baby strollers, marched without incident past the garrison, shouting, “Go Hong Kong! Go Hong Kong! Fathers and mothers please preserve our future!”
They ended their parade outside the offices of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, a body that helped to trigger the protest movement by moving in June to adopt legislation that would allow extradition to mainland China. Mrs. Lam, the chief executive, has since suspended the bill, but she has resisted demands that it be formally withdrawn. Many in Hong Kong are not willing to accept Mrs. Lam’s assurances that the bill is “dead.”
“People don’t trust the government. This is the main problem,” said Ken Lin, an unemployed 39-year-old office worker who helped organize the Saturday march. “The government only obeys Beijing, not what the people of Hong Kong want.”