HONG KONG (AFP) – A group of climbers unfurled a giant protest banner from a famous Hong Kong cliff Thursday after the city’s leader said that full democracy demanded by mass rallies would give the poor too much power.
Climbers unveiled the 28-metre banner off Lion Rock, an imposing hill with a steep cliffside that rises above the densely-packed working class Kowloon area and is often used to invoke the Asian financial hub’s “can do” attitude.
The yellow banner featured the slogan “I want genuine universal suffrage” and an umbrella, the symbol adopted by democracy protesters campaigning for full democracy in the southern Chinese city.
Parts of the city have been paralysed for nearly a month by demonstrations and road blocks calling on Beijing to rescind its insistence that Hong Kong’s next leader be vetted by a loyalist committee ahead of elections in 2017.
A group calling itself “Hong Kong Spidie” published a video online before the stunt saying they were unfurling the banner to protest recent comments by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
In an interview with foreign media on Monday, Leung said giving the public the right to nominate candidates for the city’s top post would result in the poor dominating politics.
“If it’s entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you’d be talking to the half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than US$1,800 a month,” Leung said.
In their video a climber dressed in a Spiderman outfit said: “The small circle electoral committee (who voted for Leung in 2012) and the Chief Executive only care about the rich on Tai Ping Shan and not the poor under Lion Rock”.
Tai Ping Shan is the local name for Victoria Peak, the famous hill that dominates Hong Kong Island and boasts some of the world’s most expensive properties.
In contrast, Lion Rock overlooks poorer neighbourhoods across the harbour that were historically the first port of call for impoverished immigrants from mainland China hoping to better themselves.
The phrase “Lion Rock Spirit” has since become adopted by Cantonese speakers to encapsulate Hong Kong’s renown as a place where hard work and perseverance meant a brighter future.
But the current protests are taking place against a backdrop of rising inequality and soaring housing costs which leave many young people with little prospect of renting, let alone buying, their own homes in a city with one of Asia’s widest wealth gaps.
Many protesters lament that the city’s “Lion Rock Spirit” has been stifled by a political elite in thrall to big business.
Police Thursday confirmed that 10 climbers were involved in unfurling the banner, adding that that officers were the scene.