Belting out karaoke is Hong Kong's new protest method
More protests planned for weekend to coincide with festival, rally
Thousands of people belted out a new protest song at Hong Kong's shopping malls for a fourth straight night Thursday, the latest act of resistance highlighting the creativity of demonstrators in their months-long fight for democratic freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Activists and ordinary citizens, responding to online calls, converged peacefully in at least six malls in the city to sing Glory to Hong Kong in a respite from recent violent clashes. More protests are expected this weekend, though on Thursday police banned one planned rally, citing safety concerns.
The protesters have adopted the song, penned anonymously, as their anthem. The lyrics reflect protesters' vow not to surrender despite a government agreement to withdraw a proposed extradition law that sparked the summer of unrest.
The bill, which would have allowed Hong Kong suspects to be sent to the mainland for trial, heightened fears about Beijing's growing influence over the former British colony. Protesters have widened their demands to include direct elections for the city's leaders and police accountability.
At the swank IFC mall, the music reverberated through the floors as over 1,000 people repeatedly sang the song, with the melody played over speakers brought by a participant. One man spontaneously played a piano in the concourse in accompaniment.
Some put their hands to their hearts, while others turned on the lights on their cellphones and lifted five fingers in the air to represent the protesters' five demands.
The crowd, including families with young children, students and senior citizens, also cheered and chanted slogans for more than an hour. Many were not wearing masks, the usual attire of protesters.
"This song has connected the people. We are sick and tired of China, so we don't want to sing the Chinese national anthem," said student Melody Chen, 17.
Kelvin Chung, a 30-year-old accountant, said the mall singing showed that Hong Kong people are peaceful in their protests. He said Beijing supporters earlier Thursday sang the Chinese anthem and waved red national flags at the mall, and that he had joined the protest singing to show that many Hong Kong citizens support the fight for democratic reforms.
"Most Hong Kong people love this song. We think that it represents our hearts, our people and our land," he said, adding that the people will not surrender until their demands are met.
Local media also showed mass singing in at least five other malls, as has happened since Monday. Uniformed police were absent.
The song has been sung at almost every protest since it emerged Aug. 31, including during Tuesday's World Cup qualifier match with Iran where Hong Kong soccer fans booed the Chinese national anthem before kick-off.
Protesters over the more than three months of demonstrations have also sung the Christian hymn Sing Hallelujah to the Lord and the Les Misérables tune Do You Hear the People Sing?
The songs have boosted protesters' morale and highlighted their creativity in inventing new ways to get their message heard and keep the pressure on the authorities.
The Civil Human Rights Front, which has organized several massive rallies, said Thursday it is appealing a police ban on its planned march Sunday starting at Victoria Park.
Police also banned the group's Aug. 31 march but protesters turned up anyway. Violent clashes erupted that night, with police storming a subway car and hitting passengers with batons, a water cannon and pepper spray.
Police official Kwok Chun-kit said police have reason to believe that radical protesters would break away from the march and carry out destructive acts. He noted that some activists have made online vows to escalate violence if the government fails to meet their demands by Friday.
Kwok told a news conference that the proposed route would pass close to high-risk buildings including the police headquarters, government offices and subway stations that have been a focus of protests in recent weeks.
Front co-ordinator Bonnie Leung said violent clashes were unrelated to the group.
"We create a safe zone for people to protest. Our marches are like Hong Kong people giving a chance to the government to end the crisis peacefully but now, they have closed the valve to release public anger. It's like declaring war to peaceful protesters," she told The Associated Press.
Leung accused authorities of trying to provoke protesters to conduct illegal gatherings to provide an excuse to crack down. She urged activists "not to fall into the trap," saying protests can be in many forms and that they should keep safe to sustain the protest movement.
The ban is unlikely to deter protesters. Participants in the singing at the IFC mall shouted "See you at Victoria Park" before they left.