HONG KONG – Hong Kong police pepper-sprayed a small group of protesters on Saturday night outside the legislative council building, as tens of thousands gathered peacefully nearby for commemorating the five-year anniversary of the Umbrella Movement.
The rally commemorated the start of Occupy Central, when thousands occupied Hong Kong Island's downtown for 79 days protesting against a law that required candidates for Hong Kong's highest office to be pre-approved by Beijing.
Five years later, Beijing's interference in Hong Kong's elections remains one of the primary concerns of the protest movement.
Police employed a water cannon truck as protesters failed to disperse from the legislative council building, which was put on "red alert" earlier today as a precautionary measure. In June protesters stormed the building, vandalizing the legislative council chamber.
Meanwhile in Tamar Park, protest figureheads, including Joshua Wong, who announced his run in local elections earlier today, gave speeches encouraging Hong Kong people to persist in the face of adversity.
In June, as the new wave of protests broke out against a now-abandoned extradition bill, Wong was released after serving a two-month sentence linked to his engagement in the Umbrella Movement, which got its name from the umbrellas protesters used to protect themselves against sun, rain and police pepper spray.
He was again arrested and released on bail for partaking in illegal protests earlier this month.
Against the backdrop of Hong Kong Island's famous skyline, a moment of silence was held for those who have lost their lives by suicide or who have been injured during the four months of protest in the semi-autonomous city.
Demonstrators dressed in black waived American and British flags and chanted slogans of the protest movement including "fight for freedom! Stand with Hong Kong!" and "Hong Kong add oil!".
A female protester named Carole said that though her most urgent concern is the establishment of an independent inquiry into police violence against protesters, that universal suffrage remains the "ultimate concern."
"The Chinese government is exerting more and more influence and affecting Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy, and everyone of us is aware of it – it is why we are here today. Universal suffrage is the only way we can have our voices heard by the government."
The city has faced months of protest in response to legislation that would have allowed extraditions to China. While that bill has been dropped, the renewed anti-government movement is also demanding electoral reform, such as repealing the 2014 chief executive pre-selection law which sparked the Umbrella Movement.
Hong Kong is a former British colony which returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. It was promised special rights and privileges until 2047 under the "one country, two systems" agreement, but many residents fear that the arrangement is increasingly under threat.