A police estimate put the number of people at the rally’s starting point at 128,000. CNN cannot independently confirm either figure.
Police had not given permission for protesters to march out of the park to Chater Garden in Central District as planned. But by 6 p.m. local time (6 a.m. ET) protesters had congested several main roads through the city’s main shopping area of Causeway Bay and some had pushed on to Admiralty district, near to the city’s Legislative Council offices.
Many protesters wore black, the color now associated with the anti-government movement, carried signs and chanted slogans as they moved slowly forward. “Stand with Hong Kong! Fight for freedom!” and “Hong Kong add oil!”
The protest movement, which began in June over a now-shelved extradition bill, has since expanded to include calls for greater democracy and government accountability.
“I have no idea what comes next but all we can do as citizens is keep going, protest peacefully and let the government and regime know our demands,” said one protester, Louis, 43, who works in the IT industry.
Another protester, who gave his name as Howard, said he was protesting against perceived police violence. “We want the government to listen to us, withdraw the extradition bill and also have an independent panel investigating police abuse and those officers should be stood down,” he said.
“All these two months we have gone through a lot but we should not lose hope and we should keep fighting.”
A weekend of rallies
In a statement Sunday, the Hong Kong government reiterated calls to “restore social order” and suggested officials could begin dialogue with the public once “everything has calmed down.”
But there are signs that the protesters are aware of the damage the violence has caused.
Saturday, tens of thousands of protesters participated in a peaceful, pro-democracy march in Kowloon with the aim of “reclaiming the tranquility of the neighborhood,” organizers told CNN. Protesters marched from To Kwa Wan to Hung Hom: two areas that have recently seen an influx of Chinese mainland tourists.
Later on, a group of protesters broke off and gathered in front of the police station in nearby Mong Kok — one of the world’s most densely populated areas. After police began clearing them out, the protesters left without further confrontation.
In a separate part of town, an estimated 22,000 Hong Kong school teachers and supporters attended a morning march to the Chief Executive’s residence as part of anti-government demonstrators, according to organizers.
Meanwhile, about 108,000 people participated in a pro-police rally in Tamar Park, near to the Legislative Council offices, police said. Supporters of the police held banners such as “Save Hong Kong,” “Police add oil” and “Hong Kong add oil.”
Ahead of Sunday’s rally, video surfaced appearing to show Chinese police and armed police forces holding a joint training in the neighboring mainland city of Shenzhen, according to Chinese state media People’s Daily.
In a video, police can be heard chanting “Stop the violence and repent” in Cantonese and “We listen to the party’s command! We can win the battle! We forge exemplary conduct!” in Mandarin Chinese, a standard chant of the Chinese Army.
Focus on police
Forceful police tactics used during previous protests have spurred greater demonstrations. Last weekend saw tear gas fired inside a subway station and a woman allegedly hit in the face with a beanbag round, outraging protesters and driving turnout at the airport just as things appeared to be calming down somewhat.
They also stood by the use of undercover officers to snatch protesters during last weekend’s violence, action which helped fuel the paranoia and suspicion at the airport on Tuesday.
But officers were also clear on who they put the onus on solving the ongoing unrest: The government. “This is a political issue. A political issue needs a political solution,” a senior police commander said.