HONG KONG (Reuters) - While pro-democracy protesters gathered in central Hong Kong on Sunday, on the other side of the city several hundred people dressed in red, with Chinese flag stickers on their cheeks, boarded buses to an early birthday party for the People’s Republic.
As they approached Victoria Peak, a tourist spot with scenic views, a middle-aged woman holding a microphone urged the crowd, who planned a flash-mob on the hill to celebrate 70 years of Communist China, to avoid arguments with onlookers.
“Please don’t be provoked by others,” she said. “Be calm, be rational ... We will keep going and be friendly and nice.”
After almost four months of sometimes violent protests, which were sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill but have since morphed into a broader pro-democracy movement, Hong Kong is a divided city.
While the tens of thousands who have taken to the streets weekend after weekend are wary of China, which resumed control of the territory from Britain in 1997, others in the city of 7.4 million - some of whom were born on the mainland - consider themselves loyal to Beijing.
Both sides accuse each other of violence. At recent demonstrations, protesters have rounded on people suspected of being pro-China, in some cases beating them bloody. Several lawmakers and a journalist have been attacked by masked men.
More turmoil is expected ahead of Oct 1., when Beijing plans lavish celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary, and mass demonstrations will be held in Hong Kong amid fears of a violent crackdown as authorities seek to avoid anything that could embarrass President Xi Jinping.
Police said on Monday they expected a “very serious violent attack” to mark the anniversary. Authorities have rejected a permit submitted by protesters for a planned march, but rallies are expected across the city regardless.
While people of all ages have turned out to the rallies, where Chinese flags have been burned and trampled on, most of those facing off against police are young.
Of 157 people arrested over the weekend, which saw some of the worst violence yet with police firing tear gas and water cannon to disperse petrol bomb-throwing protesters, 67 were students, police said in a press conference on Monday.
Black-clad and masked demonstrators broke windows in government buildings and set fires in several districts.
The organizer of Sunday’s pro-China rally, 55-year-old Innes Tang, said police had asked him to keep the event low-profile for fear of counter-protests or attacks.
The afternoon passed peacefully, though one young passerby shouted a slogan of the democracy movement – “Stand with Hong Kong!” – before ducking into a shopping mall.
Several in the crowd – many of who were middle-aged and elderly – said the younger generation had been spoiled by years of relative prosperity.
Karen Yip, a clerk in her early sixties, said her generation had been too focused on working hard to care about much else.
“We had no time to talk about politics, we earned money,” she said.
Democracy was a Western concept ill-suited to China, she added. “I think China has too many people. Too many people.”
She no longer discusses politics over dinner with her children, she said.
On Tuesday, they will be with the protesters, while she celebrates elsewhere.
“They understand I have my own life, they have their own life,” she said.
Additional reporting by Angie Teo; Editing by Giles Elgood