Anti-Wall Street protest reaches Asia's capitals

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 16 October, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 October, 2011, 12:00am


From Wall Street to Exchange Square, the anti-capitalism movement that started a month ago in the US spread across the world yesterday and, compared with other Asian cities, the turnout in Hong Kong's financial district was high.

Some 500 protesters demonstrated on a podium next to Exchange Square in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York on September 17 and has since spread to scores of North American cities. Police put the number of protesters in Hong Kong at 190. Organisers said there were 500.

In Sydney, about 2,000 protested, while in Auckland, New Zealand's biggest city, 3,000 people chanted and banged drums, denouncing corporate greed.

In Tokyo, the movement attracted about 100 demonstrators; in Seoul, about 70 turned out and in Taiwan just over 100.

Tens of thousands, calling themselves 'the indignant', marched in European cities from Sarajevo, Bosnia, to Stockholm. Violence broke out in Rome, where riot police fired tear gas and water cannons at a small group of violent protesters who set a defence ministry annexe on fire.

The 'Occupy Central' crowd included people from groups that often protest on the city's streets, but featured some less likely participants, too - such as Frankie Yan Man-sing, 50, who has worked in merchant banking for a decade.

'Even though I am one of the members of the finance industry, [I can say] it doesn't operate very well. There must be more severe trading laws,' he said, such as a cap on short-selling.

The demonstrators were vocal in support of their cause. 'Down with capitalism,' several chanted into megaphones.

'There is high emotion today,' said Sally Tang Mei-ching, 22, a member of Socialist Action, the Hong Kong branch of the Community of Workers International. 'If there are enough people, we should extend the protest to Monday when the stock market opens.'

Her group was one of half a dozen or so with an organised presence. Another group, Left21, took centre stage, holding a public forum that lasted almost four hours.

A former securities trader and first-time protester, Matthew Wong Kai-ming, 38, taped fake US dollar bills marked 'dirty money' across his mouth and carried a placard declaring banks were a cancer.

Lee Chun-wing, 29, a member of Left21 and a social sciences lecturer, said the movement had begun gaining traction in Hong Kong about 10 days ago through online forums. While the US protests were an actual occupation, the Hong Kong version was different. 'We are not doing that. Today is an experiment for people to show how determined they are.'

The protest later moved from Exchange Square to an area outside HSBC headquarters, where some said they intended to spend the night.

Lee said it was ironic that the square would today be a stop on the Central Rat Race, an annual charity event. 'In a society where wealth is more equally distributed, we wouldn't need these types of events because the banks would be taxed properly,' he said.