HONG KONG — Thousands of Hong Kong students boycotted the first day of fall classes and rallied peacefully for democracy on Monday, the latest acts of defiance in an anti-government movement that has plunged the Chinese-ruled city into crisis.
Students across the former British colony supplemented their formal white uniforms with gas masks, goggles and hard hats as they staged a strike, showing continued commitment to a fiery anti-government protest movement.
The semi-autonomous Chinese territory has been rocked by nearly three months of pro-democracy protests calling for electoral reforms and an independent inquiry into police conduct.
Thousands of students gathered earlier on the hilltop campus of Chinese University under leaden skies, taking turns to make speeches from a stage with a black backdrop embossed with “Students in Unity Boycott for our City”.
They are seeking greater democracy for the former British colony which returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees wide-ranging autonomy, including the right to protest and an independent judiciary.
They fear those freedoms are being slowly eroded by Communist Party rulers in Beijing, a charge China denies.
At St. Francis' Canossian College, a girls' school, uniformed students kneeled in a line and held up hand-painted signs that read: "The five major demands: Not one is dispensable."
The protesters' demands include dropping charges against demonstrators who have been arrested and formally withdrawing an extradition bill that would allow Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China to stand trial.
Some demonstrators disrupted the morning commute by blocking train doors, attempting to evade riot police who were hot on their heels by moving quickly between multiple public transit stations.
Officers at Lok Fu station hit protesters with batons and arrested one. Another three were arrested at Lai King station.
The protesters accuse Beijing and the government of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam of eroding the autonomy and civil liberties promised when the former British colony was returned to China in 1997.