- Organisers put attendance at 316,000 while police say there were 103,000 at rally in Tamar Park
- Theme of rally was ‘Safeguard Hong Kong’, with attendees calling for rifts in society to be healed but many point finger at extradition bill protesters
Hundreds of thousands of government supporters gathered beside the administration's headquarters to show solidarity and support for police on Saturday, a day before yet another massive march by extradition bill protesters.
The rally organisers estimated 316,000 people attended, while police said there were 103,000 participants at its peak. A similar event was held on June 30, when organisers said 165,000 people joined, and police put the figure at 53,000.
Co-organised by 70 pro-Beijing figures and themed "Safeguard Hong Kong", the rally at Tamar Park on Saturday afternoon, was attended by local residents, members of ethnic minorities, mainland immigrants and professionals working in the city, as well as visitors from across the border.
While their views differed on how the government had handled the political crisis and what it should do now, they were united in supporting police and condemning the violence seen in some of the protests, with some saying they did not want to see the rifts in Hong Kong widen further.
The now-suspended extradition bill has triggered a series of mass protests since early June, with some resulting in bloody clashes between police and protesters, who have been calling for a withdrawal of the draft law and the setting up of an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the saga.
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The rally was held as more than 60 relatives of police officers signed an open letter urging Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to stop using policemen as "human shields" between the government and the public, and to set up a judge-led inquiry committee.
"We are furious that frontline police officers have to stand to the forefront in the face-off with protesters in demonstrations arising from political controversies … Frontline police officers are forced to bear the consequences of the government's maladministration," the relatives wrote.
Kicking off the rally in the rain at 5pm, actor Nat Chan Pak-cheung and singer Maria Cordero led the crowd in chanting the slogan "Safeguard the rule of law. Oppose violence".
The guests who spoke on stage included three citizens from ethnic minority groups, who appealed to the different parties to have dialogue to find a solution.
"I am not pointing fingers at anyone, as there's no single party to be blamed," one of them, who gave his name simply as Mohan, said. "Hong Kong is our home. Let's not destroy it but make it a better place."
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Elsie Leung Oi-see, former secretary for justice, told the crowd: "Some people have rule of law on their lips but they are actually destroying Hong Kong … we should not tolerate any acts breaking the law."
The 70 rally co-conveners included Margaret Leung Ko May-yee, managing director of Chong Hing Bank, and Kenneth Fok Kai-kong, vice-president of the Fok Ying Tung group, and former police commissioner Tang King-shing.
Tang called on the crowd to support the force, saying officers had worked hard to make the city a safe place. His view was echoed by 30-year-old recent immigrant Liang Long.
"If there is no respect for the police in Hong Kong, there will be no Hong Kong in the future," he said, adding he was against the violence used in the protests, including the storming of the Legislative Council on July 1.
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But he said opposition to the bill was caused by the government's failure to properly promote the draft law.
A middle-aged businessman from Fujian, surnamed Wu, who travelled to Hong Kong to support the police, said: "I hope Hong Kong will continue to be peaceful and safe."
Local housewife Peggy Wai, 33, said: "I want to help Hong Kong. I am against violence and we don't want to see the social rift."
While Wai and some participants were open to the idea of setting up an independent commission of inquiry to investigate the clashes, factory worker Chu Choi-pui, 55, disagreed.
"They are rioters," he said, referring to protesters involved in violent clashes with police.
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Some mainland professionals working in Hong Kong who joined the rally said they were worried the protests would affect the city's economic development.
A local resident, surnamed So, agreed, breaking down in tears as he said: "The young protesters are ruining Hong Kong and our economy."
The rally ended at 7.15pm with all the conveners reading out a joint statement on stage: "We don't want violence. We don't want a split. We want rule of law, peace, stability and unity!"
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