HONG KONG - Thousands of people belted out a new protest song at Hong Kong's shopping malls in an act of resistance that highlighted the creativity of demonstrators in their months-long fight for democratic freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Activists and ordinary citizens sang "Glory to Hong Kong" at several malls for a third straight night Wednesday in a respite from recent violence clashes. More protests are expected this weekend, though on Thursday police banned one planned rally, citing safety concerns.
The protesters have adopted the song, penned anonymously, as their anthem. The lyrics reflect protesters' vow not to surrender despite a government concession to axe a proposed extradition law that sparked the summer of unrest.
The law, which would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to the mainland for trial, heightened fears about Beijing's growing influence over the former British colony. Protesters have widened their demands to include calls for direct elections for the city's leaders and police accountability.
At the New Town Plaza in Sha Tin district, some 2,000 people spread across several floors chanted slogans before breaking out into song, with some crying with their hands to their hearts while others lifted their hands in the air. Many referred to lyrics on their phone as they sang.
The crowd included families with young children, students and senior citizens, many of them not wearing masks, the usual attire of protesters. The busy mall is linked to a subway station where police fired tear gas on Sunday after protesters vandalized the station.
Local media showed singing taking place in at least seven other malls, as well as in some spots including outside a subway station. The South China Morning Post said participants responded to online calls to gather and sing. Police were absent and the gatherings dispersed peacefully.
The song has been sung at almost every protest since it emerged Aug. 31, including during Tuesday's World Cup qualifier match with Iran where Hong Kong soccer fans booed at the Chinese national anthem before kick-off.
Protesters over the more than three months of demonstrations have also sung the Christian hymn "Sing Hallelujah to the Lord" and the "Les Miserables" tune "Do You Hear the People Sing?"
The sing-alongs have boosted protesters' morale and highlighted their creativity in inventing new ways to get their message heard by the authorities.
On Thursday, scores of pro-Beijing supporters staged a counter protest during lunchtime at a swank mall downtown, singing the Chinese national anthem and waving red five-star national flags. Local media reported that a flash mob of pro-democracy supporters swiftly responded with their protest anthem, leading to minor scuffles.
The Civil Human Rights Front, which has organized several massive rallies, said Thursday it is appealing a police ban on its planned march Sunday.
Police also banned the group's Aug. 31 march but protesters turned up anyway. Violent clashes erupted that night, with police storming a subway car and hitting passengers with batons and pepper spray.
Police official Kwok Chun-kit said police have reason to believe that radical protesters would break away from the march and carry out destructive acts. He noted that some activists have made online vows to escalate violence if the government failed to meet their demands by Friday.
Kwok told a news conference that the proposed route would pass close to high-risk building,s including the police headquarters, government offices and subway stations that have been a focus of protests in recent weeks.
Front coordinator Bonnie Leung said violent clashes were unrelated to the group.
"We create a safe zone for people to protest. Our marches are like Hong Kong people giving a chance to the government to end the crisis peacefully but now, they have closed the valve to release public anger. It's like declaring war to peaceful protesters," she told The Associated Press.
Leung accused authorities of trying to provoke protesters to carry out illegal gatherings to find an excuse to crack down. She urged activists "not to fall into the trap," saying protests can be in many forms and that they should keep safe to sustain the protest movement.