Hong Kong protesters form human chain on hillsides

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By Alexander Smith and Mac William Bishop and Eric Baculinao and Reuters  with NBC News World News
Image: A protester lights up a laser beam at the hill top of Lion Rock in H
A protester lights up a laser beam at the hill top of Lion Rock in Hong Kong on Aug. 23, 2019.   -   Copyright  Philip Fong

Hundreds of protesters formed torch-lit human chains in the mountains of Hong Kong on Friday, the latest in what have now been months of demonstrations gripping the semi-autonomous region.

Armed with lanterns, mobile phones and torches, the activists climbed Lion Rock and Victoria Peak, two hills above the city.

Friday marks the Mid-Autumn Festival, a day when families traditionally gather to gaze at the moon and eat mooncakes, while children swing colorful lanterns from the end of sticks.

After scaling the peaks, the protesters joined arms and chanted "Stand with Hong Kong, fight for freedom."

This echoed the 28-mile human chain they formed in August, inspired by 1989 Soviet-era protests across the Baltic states in Europe.

Friday's event came a day after Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, attempted to offer concessions, saying in a Facebook post she would seek to address concerns over jobs and the city's sky-high rents.

"Housing and people's livelihoods are the main priorities," Lam said Thursday. "The government will add to housing supply measures which will be continuously put in place and not missed."

She has previously admitted responsibility for causing "huge havoc" by plunging the city into months of crisis, and said privately that she would quit if she could.

Starting in March, the demonstrators originally took to the streets against an law that would allow suspected criminals to be extradited to mainland China. Beijing governs Hong Kong as a semi-autonomous region after it was given control of the former British colony in 1997.

The bill has since been withdrawn, but protesters have continued to flood the streets, demanding democratic reforms, investigations into alleged police brutality, and other grievances to be addressed.

Protesters on top of Lion Rock on Friday.
Protesters on top of Lion Rock on Friday.Tyrone Siu

Meanwhile Friday, the Hong Kong Tennis Open was canceled. Organizers of the sports event, which was due to be held Oct. 5 - 13, said that "in light of the present situation … a smooth running of the tournament can be better assured at a later time."

Sit-ins at shopping malls are also planned over the weekend, with demonstrators rallying round a newly composed unofficial anthem, "Glory to Hong Kong," which was recently sung over the Chinese anthem at an international soccer game.

On Sunday, the activists also intend to sit outside the British consulate, demanding that China honors a declaration signed in 1984 that set out the terms for its hand-over in 1997.

Demonstrators sing "Glory to Hong Kong" at the Times Square shopping mall in Hong Kong on Thursday.
Demonstrators sing "Glory to Hong Kong" at the Times Square shopping mall in Hong Kong on Thursday.Vincent Yu

Not all Hong Kongers agree with these tactics. On Thursday a group of pro-China protesters gathered at a mall in a flash mob-style demonstration, unfurling the Chinese flag and singing the national anthem.

These were met with a group of counterprotesters, the latest sign of a division in identity between those who consider themselves "Chinese" first, and those who identify primarily as from Hong Kong.

In China itself, the Reuters news agency quoted unnamed business executives saying the country was urging companies to take more of an active role in Hong Kong, including stepping up investment and asserting more control of companies.

At a meeting this week in Shenzhen, senior representatives from nearly 100 of China's largest state-run companies were urged to do their part to help cool China's biggest political crisis in years, three executives, including one who was present, told Reuters.

NBC News has asked several relevant Chinese government agencies for a response to the report, without immediate reply.

Alexander Smith reported from London, Mac William Bishop reported from Hong Kong, and Eric Baculinao reported from Beijing.