Hong Kong marked a rare Saturday afternoon without any violent protest but about 1,000 residents gathered as night fell in Central to call for international humanitarian aid, as the city geared up for an unauthorised march on Sunday.
With Hong Kong entering its 20th consecutive weekend of anti-government demonstrations, organisers of Saturday's rally said earlier that the event at Edinburgh Place was meant to be peaceful and rational, involving people praying for foreign help amid more than four months of chaos that has rocked the city.
Police said the turnout peaked at 1,600 people.
The rally, or prayer meeting, came as demonstrators also gathered in other places such as Tsim Sha Tsui on Saturday to protest against the government, a day before an illegal march is set to take place from Salisbury Garden in the shopping district of Tsim Sha Tsui to the West Kowloon terminus of the high-speed rail link on Sunday afternoon.
Hong Kong's authorities have upheld a police ban on the planned anti-government march, citing "public safety and order", but Figo Chan Ho-wun, vice-convenor of march organiser Civil Human Rights Front said they intended to push ahead in their personal capacity.
The front has been behind some of the biggest protests since the political crisis - sparked by the now-withdrawn extradition bill - erupted in June.
Speaking on stage, Reverend Lau Chi-hung, a Christian priest, called for people to not be overtaken by hatred, as he led participants in prayer.
"Today Hong Kong is in difficult times, we see escalated violence and growing hatred. Let us not seek revenge but the truth," he said.
Among those at the rally was a man in his 50s holding a sign that said "police pay no respect to law, civilians and journalists". He criticised the government, saying: "I think it is now police who are governing Hong Kong … It is shameful the way the government has been handling things.
"It breaks my heart to see Hong Kong come to this and saddens me every time someone is hurt."
Police have dismissed accusations of misconduct during protests, saying they were trying to keep law and order amid the growing violence of radical protesters, while the government has firmly backed the force. Senior officials have also insisted that the Independent Police Complaints Council is the right body to investigate allegations of excessive force by frontline officers during protests.
Snow Hang, a man in his 20s, was carrying a US flag at the rally. He said Hong Kong could only rely on the United States for help as "the US has the greatest power in the world, so they are the best choice".
"I'm here today because many people were hurt during this social movement. I believe some of them were killed and that protesters were treated in an unlawful and cruel way," he said.
Hang also said he planned to join the march on Sunday if it took place, even though he was worried about it being an unlawful assembly. "The ban is meaningless … Under the Basic Law, every Hong Kong resident has the right of assembly," he added.
Logistics sector worker Peter Chan, in his 30s, also said he came to pray for those injured, and would take part in the Sunday march.
"I'm not against authorities enforcing the law, but I don't think they should use violence. They have been using too much excessive violence," he said.
Several protesters brought with them neon signs saying "Free HK", while others constructed a makeshift "Lennon Wall" with a piece of cloth tied to some poles, placing sticky notes on it.
Apart from the sharing and prayers from two Christian pastors, participants also watched a video of the anti-government protests, before presenters at the rally read out a declaration calling for international humanitarian aid in seven languages, including English, Japanese and German.
"Hong Kong is now facing a humanitarian crisis," a male presenter said.
"We hope that the international community can hear our call and send staff to Hong Kong to provide voluntary emergency medical service and monitor (law enforcement officers)."
He claimed some protesters received delayed medical attention and violent treatment by law enforcement.
The declaration also called on the international community to put pressure on the Hong Kong government to ensure all medical and humanitarian workers at protests are protected.
Before organisers announced the end of the rally at 8.05pm, participants turned on their white and red torches to signal an international SOS distress code.
"Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong," people chanted.
Protesters then shouted "Hongkongers resist" and sang rally anthem Glory to Hong Kong as they made their way out of Edinburgh Place. A booth was also set up near the venue for people to leave messages for those rumoured to have lost their lives during the movement.
Earlier on Saturday, a pop-up photo exhibition on alleged police brutality was held at Tsim Sha Tsui without seeking government approval. The exhibition consisted of photos showing demonstrators injured in the protests.
A 23 year-old woman surnamed Yeung, who was on the five-person organising committee for the exhibition, said: "We hope to raise public awareness, especially to those from western countries who share similar values of freedom and democracy. We also want to show that Hong Kong is facing a very serious problem - police brutality and abuse of power."
In a separate incident shortly before 6pm, a man was attacked outside Tai Po Market MTR station as he was giving out leaflets at the district's Lennon Wall in a pedestrian underpass.
He suffered a cut in his neck, and was stabbed in his abdomen. He was sent to hospital in a conscious state. The attacker later turned himself in.
Additional reporting by Tony Cheung
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