Hong Kong protests enter 11th consecutive weekend

10:10 a.m. ET, August 18, 2019

Organizers say 1.7 million people took part in today's mass demonstration

Protest organizers the Civil Human Rights Front estimate that 1.7 million people turned out for today's mass demonstration.

Police have told CNN they do not yet have their own estimate for crowd size and CNN cannot independently confirm the organizers’ figures. 

The number, if accurate, would represent a strong rebuke to those who claimed the movement had lost broad public support.

Speaking to the press in Victoria Park, the CHRF said they counted 1.7 million people in Causeway Bay and Tin Hau districts as well as Victoria Park.

The group said the number could be even higher as they believe more people were protesting who could not reach the areas listed above.

On June 9, days before the controversial extradition bill was due to have its second reading, organizers estimated the crowd size for that march to be more than 1 million, while police put the number at 240,000. At another march on June 16, organizers estimated that around 2 million had taken part, but police said 338,000 people had followed the original protest route.

9:58 a.m. ET, August 18, 2019

Protesters stop a man, search his phone

There was a tense confrontation on Harcourt Road in Admiralty district when a man wearing a red T-shirt was blocked and briefly questioned by the crowd.

Men dressed in red had previously attacked protesters in North Point, in the east of the island, and protesters here accused the man of being in alliance with them. The mood became aggressive as it became clear the man was from mainland China. Protesters searched his phone but found nothing incriminating. 

While tensions didn't reach the point of violence, it was a remainder of Tuesday's detention and assault of another mainland Chinese man in Hong Kong airport. That man was eventually evacuated by paramedics four hours after he was first detained and attacked, drifting in and out of consciousness during his ordeal. 

The man stopped in Admiralty on Sunday told CNN he was from Shanghai and “wanted to go home.” 

Photos of his detention were almost immediately shared on Chinese social media and by state media employees on Twitter, who accused Hong Kong protesters of acting like thugs.

9:23 a.m. ET, August 18, 2019

It's coming up 9:30 p.m. in Hong Kong. Here's the latest

If you're just joining us now, here's what you need to know about the protests happening today on Hong Kong Island:

  • Massive crowds: Hundreds of thousands of protesters of all ages have marched through the city center in heavy rain, in a massive display of continued support for the movement.
  • Call for solidarity: The march was titled "Peaceful, Rational, and Non-Violent Protesters Stand Out" in what was organizers hoped would be a call for unity and restraint after several weeks of escalating and divisive violence.
  • An unauthorized march: Defying a police ban, massive crowds left the designated protest area in Victoria Park, turning the city center into a sea of umbrellas.
  • It's not over yet: Thousands of protesters are now peacefully occupying the road outside the government's Legislative Council complex.
  • No police presence: Police have been noticeably absent from the protest today, with only a small contingent around the Chinese Liaison office in Sheung Wan.
  • Still strong support for the movement: This is the 11th consecutive weekend of demonstrations in Hong Kong and follows scenes of ugly violence at the airport, Tuesday, and increasingly menacing warnings from the Chinese government.

8:50 a.m. ET, August 18, 2019

Protesters are hanging around government headquarters

The situation on Harcourt Road, outside government offices and the Legislative Council, is getting much closer to an occupation. Crowds here are mostly young and more are wearing masks, helmets and other riot gear.

There is still a constant stream of people heading westwards but it feels like more are staying to see what happens now the weather has improved somewhat. Police are still nowhere in sight.

8:32 a.m. ET, August 18, 2019

Riot police gather close to the Chinese Liaison office

Where are police? A handful of riot police have begun to gather along Des Voeux Road and Connaught Road, in the city's Sheung Wan district.

There are also tall water barricades outside the nearby Chinese government Liaison Office and some riot police are guarding the road leading to the building.

Are protesters there too? There are no signs of protesters here so far tonight -- though the Chinese Liaison office has been at the center of several violent clashes between protesters and riot police.

The Chinese Liaison Office is home to Beijing's top representative in the city -- and protests outside the building have been viewed as a direct challenge the Chinese Communist Party.

What about elsewhere? There are also large water filled barricades at the intersection of Tim Wa Avenue and Harcourt Road, outside the city government's main headquarters. This location was the site of clashes between protesters and police on June 12, when authorities moved to clear a similar (though much larger) occupation with tear gas and rubber bullets. Police are not currently in sight, though protesters say they have seen officers inside several police vans that are parked behind the barricades.

8:21 a.m. ET, August 18, 2019

See protesters shine lasers onto Hong Kong's Legislative Council building

Protesters are shining lasers onto the Legislative Council building. Lasers have been used throughout the protest movement to disorientate police and in an attempt to deter people from taking photos of protesters.

Demonstrators are particularly worried about mainland China's mass surveillance systems, which include facial recognition technologies.

Hong Kong police have previously warned protesters against using lasers, saying they pose a "serious threat to the safety of police officers."

8:00 a.m. ET, August 18, 2019

International businesses facing a "new reality" as protest movement forces hard choices  

One of the world's top airlines has discovered just how dangerous Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests are becoming for international companies based in the city.

The stunning resignations late Friday of Cathay Pacific's CEO and chief commercial officer came at the end of a tumultuous couple of weeks for the airline.

No company has become more emblematic of just how thin a line businesses are having to walk as Hong Kong enters into its 11th consecutive weekend of mass demonstrations.

More than a thousand of its employees took part in a strike last week that forced the airline to cancel over 150 flights. Days later, China said it would not allow Cathay flights crewed by people who have taken part in "illegal demonstrations, protests and violent attacks" to use its airspace. It forced the airline to provide crew IDs.

In response, Cathay accepted restrictions from Chinese authorities on who could fly its planes over the country. Then it threatened staff with dismissal if they took part in the protests.

None of that was enough to save two of the company's highest ranking executives, and news of their departures broke first on Chinese state media.

"International businesses have to face a new reality here," said Ronald Wan, chief executive of Partners Capital International in Hong Kong.

Read more about the dangers facing international businesses operating in Hong Kong here

7:49 a.m. ET, August 18, 2019

Protest movement shows it can be peaceful -- can it stay that way as night falls?

Protesters marching from Wan Chai to Central district as night falls.
Protesters marching from Wan Chai to Central district as night falls. Joshua Berlinger/CNN

After ugly scenes at the airport on Tuesday, when protesters detained and assaulted a man they accused of being an undercover police officer, today’s march serves as a rebuttal to those suggesting the protest movement was getting out of control.

That tens if not hundreds of thousands of people have turned out in miserable weather also shows that the incident, which was played up widely in Chinese state media and the local pro government press, has not significantly sapped support. 

What happens next?

There are still large numbers of families and older people in the crowds streaming past the legislature towards the unofficial end point of central.

Police tactics come into focus

In the past, the police have largely tolerated peaceful protests during the day and then moved in with force later on to clear the roads. 

Doing so today could be a huge misstep however. Excessive use of force last Sunday, when police fired tear gas inside a subway station and were filmed using less lethal weapons at point blank range, was a driving motivation for the protests in following days, and cited by many attending today’s march.

7:34 a.m. ET, August 18, 2019

Protesters aren't worried about Chinese army threats

What's the concern? Ahead of Sunday's rally, video surfaced appearing to show Chinese police and armed police forces holding a joint training in the neighboring mainland city of Shenzhen, according to Chinese state media People's Daily.

In a video, police can be heard chanting "Stop the violence and repent" in Cantonese and "We listen to the party's command! We can win the battle! We forge exemplary conduct!" in Mandarin Chinese, a standard chant of the Chinese Army.

Why is it significant? The videos come as fears of a People's Liberation Army (PLA) intervention has spread through the city and triggered memories of the brutal 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown.

There is no indication that the Chinese military or People's Armed Police members are set to enter Hong Kong. But state media has repeatedly brought up that possibility and propaganda videos of soldiers training in makeshift riot scenes have been heavily promoted by the government in the mainland.

What are protesters saying? In response to the Chinese show of armed force in Shenzhen, one man says they are “empty threats.”

For us, I think most of us would agree that those would be empty threats. Deep in the heart we know that they have too much to lose so military wouldn’t be coming to Hong Kong.

One woman agrees. "It doesn’t worry me because we know that if the military force from China or Shenzhen come to Hong Kong, the whole social order is being destroyed. And I don’t think this is what the government are willing to see," she told CNN.

Satellite imagery shows Chinese military vehicles congregating near Hong Kong border
Satellite imagery shows Chinese military vehicles congregating near Hong Kong border Satellite image ©2019 Maxar Technologies

Another young woman whose surname is Choi, said she is worried about a possible intervention but she doesn't think Beijing would dare send in the troops.

"They would not want a repeat of Tiananmen," she said. "They spent too long doing PR, they had an economic boom, they’ve been trying to get more influence in the world." She said if they did a repeat of Tiananmen, "they would lose all that credibility.”

Choi also said that while Hong Kong has seen some minor violence, international attention is focused on the city.

"I don’t think we have done anything that require them to escalate that way," she said. "We are not generally violent, and they can’t really justify releasing the army into the city.”

Read more on this here.