Protests in Europe highlight divide between China, Hong Kong

Protests in support of Hong Kong spread throughout Europe, along with pro-China counter demonstrations

Pro-Hong Kong demonstrators in Berlin

Pro-Hong Kong demonstrators in Berlin (CNA photo)

PARIS, BERLIN, LONDON (CNA) -- Hong Kongers rallied Saturday in Berlin, Paris and London in protest against what they said was police violence in their homeland, while Chinese nationals staged counter demonstrations in the three European cities.

At 6 p.m. Hong Kong demonstrators in Paris began gathering in Place St-Michel public square, holding placards and posters that read "No China Extradition" and "Solidarity with Hong Kong."

They were joined by French and Taiwanese protesters, who voiced support for freedom and democracy in Hong Kong.

One of the organizers of the rally told CNA that the Hong Kong government does not take public opinion seriously and is completely under Beijing's thumb.

Hong Kong should be governed under the "one country, two systems" formula, but many Kong Kongers think that system is dead, said the organizer, who asked to be identified only by the name Iven.

The Kong Kong government operates completely at the command of the central government in Beijing, he said.

Hong Kong police have been using force against protesters there and accusing them of being advocates of "Hong Kong independence," Iven said.

Protest in Paris (CNA photo)

The Hong Kong issue has been in the spotlight since March, when residents took to the streets in protest against a controversial bill that would have allowed the extradition of fugitives and crime suspects to China for trial.

Since then, the bill has been shelved but the protests have continued, evolving into demonstrations characterized by often violent confrontations between police and protesters.

In one such confrontation, a female protester was reportedly blinded in one eye by a police rubber bullet.

Hong Kong protesters are now calling for an investigation into an alleged abuse of power by police, and a genuine general election.

In Paris on Saturday, a group of Chinese nationals staged a counter protest on the other side of Place St-Michel, holding their country's flag and chanting slogans like "Hong Kong is part of China."

"No matter what, I'm Chinese," said one protester who asked to be identified by the surname Xiong. "I have to come."

Xiong said it was his opinion that the "anti-extradition" movement grew as a result of "misunderstandings," and that some people were trying to reap political benefits from it.

The two protests in the square were relatively peaceful, marred only by some sporadic quarrels, and continued until around 8 p.m.

In Berlin, meanwhile, about 200 Hong Kongers gathered in the square in front of Brandenburg Gate in protest against what they said was an excessive use of force by Hong Kong police against citizens.

They called on the international community to pay attention to the Hong Kong situation and on the German government to stop selling equipment and devices to Hong Kong for use by police to suppress demonstrations.

Hong Kongers are not fighting for independence but rather for universal freedom of assembly and speech, the organizers of the protest said.

On the other side of the square, nearly 50 Chinese nationals gathered, holding their national flag and placards that read "Is it right to attack police?" and "Law-breaking is not democracy."

Berlin police officers and vehicles were positioned between the two groups of protesters.

In London, about 1,000 Hong Kong expatriates joined a street march, held under the theme "Standing on Hong Kong's side," in support of the protests at home.

Carrying placards that read "Guarding Hong Kong" and "Go Hongkongers," they marched from Trafalgar Square to No. 10 Downing Street, where they encountered Chinese protesters who were shouting "Chinese Hong Kong."

Under the eyes of a massive police presence, the two groups shouted at each other but there were no physical conflicts.

Protest in London, (photo courtesy of AFP)

Protest by Chinese nationals in London (CNA photo)

Protest by Hong Kongers in London (CNA photo)

Protest in Berlin (CNA photo)