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Hong Kong protesters vow to keep up pressure

As Hong Kong reels under the largest protests in its history over an extradition bill, experts say the protest movement is evolving into a permanent campaign seeking to preserve the city's civil liberties.

Over the past month, millions of people have taken to the streets in Hong Kong in separate protests to repeatedly voice their opposition against a controversial extradition bill proposed by the city's government. 

Following several large-scale marches and violent clashes between police and protesters, Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced on Tuesday that the extradition bill is "dead." Nevertheless, most pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong doubt the government's sincerity. They want Lam to officially withdraw the bill and promise not to restart the legislative process.

The demonstrators are concerned that the extradition bill would allow Hong Kong citizens to be tried in courts located in mainland China, where the rule of law is not guaranteed. They are also worried that the civil liberties Hong Kong enjoys under the "one country, two systems" arrangement with Beijing are gradually being eroded.

Read more: Sieren's China: Hong Kong is losing room to maneuver

Although Lam, who was elected by a council loyal to Beijing, has acknowledged that the protesters doubt the government's sincerity, she insists that by not debating the bill in the current legislative cycle, it will be de-facto withdrawn.

"There are still lingering doubts about the government's sincerity or worries about whether the government will restart the process with the Legislative Council. So I reiterate here, there is no such plan. The bill is dead," Lam said on Tuesday.

But experts think that this does not go far enough to help ease the tension in Hong Kong's society.

"I think it's a bit too late for Lam to respond to protesters' demands now," said Ma Ngok, an associate professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong's department of government and public administration. "It would have been better if she had said all this before June 9."

Read more: Hong Kong protesters rally to 'explain' demos to mainland Chinese

Watch video 01:49

Hong Kong train station symbolizes China's growing control

Hong Kong patriotism?

Hong Kong's pro-democracy groups have vowed to keep protesting until their so-called five demands are met. Along with the withdrawal of the bill, the demands include Lam's resignation, the protests not being officially called "riots," an independent inquiry into police action and the release of everyone arrested during the demonstrations.

Ma said more protests will continue throughout Hong Kong in the coming weeks, as the original movement evolves into something bigger. "I don't think what the government has said or done is enough to convince protesters to stop their activism," Ma told DW.

To some Hong Kong observers, the anti-extradition bill movement has helped to unite Hong Kongers from all walks of life and trigger a feeling of "Hong Kong patriotism."

Kong Tsung-Gan, a Hong Kong-based writer and activist, told DW that more and more Hong Kongers feel a sense of urgency and are unified by their love for the city to defend its values.

"This is a catalyzing moment in the ongoing resistance and defense of Hong Kong," said Kong.

Read more: Hong Kong investors face uncertainty as Chinese questions mount

Expanding the movement

Professor Ma said that the anti-extradition bill movement has grown to a level never before seen in Hong Kong, including during the 2014 Umbrella Movement.

"The current movement has surpassed the Umbrella Movement in many respects," he said. "We are starting to see other smaller-scale protests take place across Hong Kong."

This includes so-called Lennon walls, which are boards covered in colorful post-it notes with the thoughts of protesters scrawled on them, displaying their hopes for the future and inspiring quotes from celebrities.

"There are Lennon walls going up all over the city in all different districts, including those that have a reputation for not being super friendly to the pro-democracy cause," Kong said. "These are all signs of protesters trying to spread the movement outward and take it to other parts of the city."

Read more: Hong Kong pro-democracy movement — going from strength to strength

Kong said that this small gesture is a sign that Hong Kong protesters are expanding the scope of the movement.

"People are leaving the narrow issue of the extradition bill behind," Kong told DW. "The movement is becoming more about standing up for Hong Kong and trying to change the political culture of the city."

Social media groups on services like LIHKG or Telegram are also making it easier for young Hong Kongers to join the pro-democracy cause.

"Many people realize that they don't need protest leaders," Ma said. "This sentiment encourages more people to take part in the movement."

As Hong Kong prepares for two upcoming elections and the government remains weak, Ma thinks there could be more opportunities for protesters to mobilize and initiate different kinds of protests. 

How to maintain the momentum?

Despite these positive developments, the pro-democracy movement still needs a plan to carry the current momentum forward.

Kong Tsung-Gan said that the movement functions well because it combines peaceful rallies with more confrontational protests driven by young people.

"Such a combination has been very effective up to now, but as they try to maintain the momentum, they also need to find ways to keep other Hong Kongers involved."

"They can't just rely on themselves. That's why people started to create Lennon walls all over the city, while ordinary people are also getting more involved in upcoming district elections. All these developments are quite important."

Read more: Hong Kong protests pit the city's young against the old

Professor Ma said that anger and frustration among the protesters will sustain the movement, at least in the short term.

"I think we can expect the current movement to keep developing for a few more weeks, and people might expand the movement to other topics or issues since the momentum to participate is there."

Even though the anti-extradition bill movement continues to operate under the "leaderless" format, Kong said it's important for protesters to institutionalize the movement.

"I'm hoping that so much of what we have seen since the government suspended the extradition bill will lead to the kind of feeling that Hong Kong people have the right to take the future into our hands," Kong said.

Watch video 00:42

Carrie Lam: 'The bill is dead'

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