HONG KONG (Reuters) – About 1,000 students, many wearing black masks, attended a graduation ceremony at the Chinese University of Hong Kong on Thursday, with some holding up banners urging “Free Hong Kong, Revolution Now”.
The students defied a ban on masks that the government imposed last month in a bid to curb unrest that has rocked the Chinese-ruled city for more than five months.
Dressed in formal graduation gowns, many of the students chanted as they walked from a metro station to the ceremony venue, calling for the government to respond to protesters’ demands that include universal suffrage.
The protests started over a now-scrapped extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial but have evolved into calls for greater democracy and an independent inquiry into complaints of excessive force by police, among other demands.
“The most important thing is we all remember five demands not one less, even though we are all exhausted, we should not give up,” said Kelvin, a 22-year-old information engineering graduate.
The months of sometimes violent anti-government protests have plunged the former British colony into its biggest crisis in decades, with no sign the demonstrators plan to give up.
At the root of many protesters’ indignation is what they see as Chinese meddling with Hong Kong’s promised freedoms.
China denies doing so and has blamed Western countries for stirring up trouble in the financial hub.
The protests have hammered the city’s economy, which is sliding into recession for the first time since the global financial crisis in the third quarter.
Retail and tourism sectors have been hit particularly hard with visitor numbers plummeting as tourists stay away.
Beijing supports bolder action to tackle the roots of unrest, a senior Chinese official said on Wednesday, citing social problems including unaffordable housing.
More protests are planned on Thursday and through the weekend, when bigger crowds usually gather.