Tens of thousands rally in Hong Kong as China condemns U.S. lawmakers' support

The large turnout suggested the movement retains widespread support after recent protests were marked by violent clashes with police that have garnered increasing global attention.

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By Janis Mackey Frayer, Paul Goldman and Associated Press

HONG KONG — Protesters turned Hong Kong's streets into rivers of umbrellas Sunday as they braved heavy rain to march in a show of strength.

The latest in a months-long series of demonstrations was being seen as a measure of popular support for the pro-democracy movement, with recent rallies marked by violent clashes with police that have garnered increasing global attention.

The large turnout suggested the movement retains widespread support as it continues to push for greater freedoms amid Beijing's growing influence over the former British colony.

Frustration with a lack of progress and what protesters see as a heavy-handed police response have led to escalation, most recently after protesters occupied the city's international airport last week.

Some activists apologized after flights were canceled and clashes turned violent.

Organizers said they hoped Sunday’s assembly would be peaceful.

“We hope that there will not be any chaotic situations today,” said organizer Bonnie Leung. “We hope we can show the world that Hong Kong people can be totally peaceful.”Police had approved the rally, sending alerts to phones throughout the territory urging people to stay within the confines of Victoria Park.

The crowd seemed to draw its members from the broader base that characterised the movement's early mass protests. The mix of young and elderly, couples and families did not obey the police request, marching from the park to fill a major road in one of Hong Kong's busy shopping districts.

But the atmosphere was less charged after weeks of tense and sometimes violent standoffs with police.

"Hong Kong people, keep going," the crowd chanted.

In Beijing, meanwhile, a spokesman for China’s ceremonial legislature condemned statements from U.S. lawmakers supportive of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

You Wenze called the lawmakers’ comments “a gross violation of the spirit of the rule of law, a blatant double standard and a gross interference in China’s internal affairs.”

Beijing has struck an increasingly strident tone over the protests in recent days, accusing foreign countries including the United States of fomenting unrest.

You did not mention any specific lawmaker, but numerous U.S. senators and Congress members, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have affirmed the U.S. commitment to human rights and urged the Hong Kong government to end the standoff.

President Donald Trump has largely steered clear of criticizing China over its response, though last week he did link the humane resolution of the protests to ongoing trade talks between the two countries.

Members of China’s paramilitary People’s Armed Police force have been training for days across the border in Shenzhen, including on Sunday morning, fueling speculation that they could be sent in to suppress the protests.

The Hong Kong police, however, have said they are capable of handling the protests.

Reuters contributed.