Scuffles break out in Toronto over Hong Kong protests
A Toronto rally in solidarity with anti-government protesters in Hong Kong became physical Saturday afternoon as protesters were met with pro-Beijing demonstrators.
Hundreds attended a pro-democracy gathering outside Old City Hall that was met by a counter-protest of supporters waving Chinese flags and chanting “one China.”
The scheduled march around the Eaton Centre shopping mall was one of several planned across Canada on Saturday in support of the pro-democracy movement, including Calgary, Vancouver and Winnipeg.
But the anti-government protesters were blocked from marching around the mall by pro-Beijing protesters, according to organizers. They also say that some volunteers and organizers were attacked in the clash, but Toronto police said no one was physically injured.
“This is Canada. We have the constitutional right to freedom of expression. No one can take that from all of us,” Gloria Fung, one of the organizers, told CTV Toronto.
Video footage shot by witness Mitch St. Hilaire shows brief scuffles between protesters as some in the crowd push and shove each other.
“It’s a rather charged mood, there has had to be a police intervention to separate the protesters,” said St. Hilaire, who estimated about 200 to 300 protesters on each side of the stand-off.
A pro-China protester said that he attended the event out of concern for violence in Hong Kong.
“We want one China. Anything can be negotiated, but we want to talk in peace,” he said.
In Vancouver, police officers stood between two dueling protests in the city’s downtown core.
“I’m here today to give support to the protesters back in Hong Kong and what they are fighting for to ensure that their freedoms still remain,” Matthew Ho told CTV Vancouver
Steven Li, who stood alongside the pro-Beijing group, accused the opposing group of ignorance.
“A lot of people in Hong Kong, they have no idea what’s go on and they started a riot for no reason,” Li said.
The Canadian demonstrations come as protesters in Hong Kong prepare to gather Sunday for their biggest anti-government rally yet. For the past 10 weeks, people have flooded streets in the semi-autonomous region as some residents accuse the Communist Party-ruled Chinese government of chipping away at Hong Kong's democratic rights.
The anti-government movement's demands include the resignation of Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, democratic elections, an independent investigation into police use of force, the release of arrested protesters and withdrawal of an extradition agreement with China.
Beijing has previously labeled anti-government protesters as "terrorists."
Members of China's paramilitary People's Armed Police force have massed across the border in mainland China where they continue to hold drills, amid fears Beijing will send them in to crush the demonstrations.
Dozens of army-green armoured carriers and trucks were parked inside and outside the facility in Shenzhen.
Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland issued a statement Saturday condemning violence in Hong Kong. Freeland said fundamental freedoms, including the right of peaceful assembly, must continue to be upheld.
“For the last two months, large numbers of citizens have been exercising their fundamental right of assembly. However, there has recently been a rising number of unacceptable violent incidents, with risks of further violence and instability,” read the statement.
“It is crucial that restraint be exercised, violence rejected and urgent steps taken to de-escalate the situation.”
The joint statement from Freeland and her counterpart in the European Union, Federica Mogherini, calls for "broad-based and inclusive dialogue, involving all key stakeholders."
“Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, are enshrined in the Basic Law and in international agreements and must continue to be upheld,” read the statement.
TEACHERS JOIN THE MOVEMENT
Saturday also saw dueling demonstrations in Hong Kong.
On one side, thousands of anti-government protesters marched in the rain in another passionate push to preserve their freedoms. This time, they were joined by thousands of teachers who demanded future generations be safeguarded from what they see as Beijing tightening its grip.
"The government right now doesn't listen to the people, and the police are too violent," said Bobby Tse, a 76-year-old retiree told The Associated Press.
"It didn't used to be like this. We didn't have to protest every week. But now even though we have protests every week, the government still gives no response."
"Even though we're all scared of getting arrested, we have to keep going," Minnie Lee, a 31-year-old logistics worker who joined the pro-democracy march, told AP.
"What we are fighting for is democracy and our rights. We're not doing anything wrong. If we stop now, things will only get worse."
PRO-CHINA PROTESTERS SPEAK OUT
Pro-government protesters also gathered in what appeared to be a smaller rally in a park opposite Hong Kong’s legislature. They rejected accusations of excessive force by Hong Kong police.
Speakers on a stage said they love both Hong Kong and China and asked protesters why they are afraid of China. Supporters gave a thumbs-up to police officers and posed for photos with them.
Leo Chen, a 47-year-old driver, said he came out because he wants peace in his city of 7.4 million people.
"Before, everyone in Hong Kong helped each other, it was very harmonious," he told AP. "Now to see it become like this, I'm not happy, so I've come out to show a little strength."
Outside of Hong Kong, demonstrations were held in support of both sides.
In Australia, at least 200 protesters descended on Sydney Town Hall, chanting "Long live China" and singing the Chinese national anthem. A protest in support of the pro-democracy movement continued in Melbourne.
In Taiwan’s capital of Taipei, people held a flash mob demonstration in support of the Hong Kong protests.
--- With files from Omar Sachedina, Rachel Gilmore, Nicole Bogart, The Canadian Press and Associated Press