Thousands of civil servants joined in the anti-government protests in Hong Kong yesterday for the first time since they started two months ago, defying a warning from the authorities to remain politically neutral.
Protests against a proposed bill that would allow people to be extradited to stand trial in mainland China have grown increasingly violent, with police accused of excessive use of force and failing to protect protesters from suspected gang attacks.
Chanting encouragement, crowds turned out to support the civil servants at their rally yesterday evening which halted traffic on major roads in the heart of the city’s business district.
“I think the government should respond to the demands, instead of pushing the police to the frontline as a shield,” said Kathy Yip, a 26-year-old government worker.
The rally yesterday came after an open letter penned anonymously and published on Facebook set out a series of demands to the Hong Kong government by a group which said it represented civil servants. “At present the people of Hong Kong are already on the verge of collapse,” the group wrote in the letter, saying it was “a pity that we have seen extreme oppression”.
The group also listed five demands: complete withdrawal of the extradition bill; a halt to descriptions of the protests as ‘rioting’; a waiver of charges against those arrested; an independent inquiry and resumption of political reform.
The protests against a now suspended extradition bill have widened to demand greater democracy and the resignation of Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam, and have become one of the gravest populist challenges to Communist Party rulers in Beijing.
On Thursday the government said Hong Kong’s 180,000 civil servants must remain politically neutral as the city braced for another wave of protests over the weekend and a mass strike on Monday across sectors such as transport, schools and corporates.
“At this difficult moment, government colleagues have to stay united and work together to uphold the core values of the civil service,” the government said.
Protest organisers said more than 40,000 people participated in yesterday’s rally, while police put the number at 13,000. Police arrested eight people, including a leading pro-independence leader, after seizing weapons and suspected bomb-making material in a raid.