These are not the National Day celebrations that Beijing had in mind

7 minutes ago
7 minutes ago

HONG KONG—The crowds gathered to demand universal suffrage in Hong Kong started off sparse today, after a night of rain and with intense daytime heat. But by early evening, they had swelled to tens of thousands again, and hundreds more black-shirt-clad, yellow-ribbon-wearing supporters were pouring off of public transportation every minute.

The Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong is expected at its high point to attract as many as 400,000 people, and tonight could be that zenith. The turnout is being boosted, somewhat ironically, by the fact that today and tomorrow are holidays in Hong Kong, thanks to a “National Day” to celebrate the creation of the People’s Republic of China.

Already during the week, protest numbers have ebbed and flowed as participants went to school and work during the day. Now schools, businesses and government offices are closed for at least the next 24 hours, and many for the rest of the week. The Hong Kong heat may have kept many indoors this afternoon, but people are flowing into Admiralty, Mong Kok and Causeway Bay—and no one is trying to stop them.

After a disastrous attempt to remove the protesters from the streets this weekend, Hong Kong’s plan to control the protests is just to wait them out, an unnamed adviser to the government told The New York Times: neither forcefully expelling them nor meeting with protestors who have demanded an audience with the city’s chief executive, C.Y. Leung. The plan was handed down from Beijing, another adviser told The Wall Street Journal.

The contrast between a day of celebration for China and some of the largest protests in decades against Beijing’s policies has been stark. This morning, Hong Kong’s reunification with China was celebrated with a champagne toast between the city’s under-fire chief executive and Chinese officials, but nearby, protesters booed as the Chinese flag was flown over Victoria Harbor. One district representative who came to the official ceremony even unfurled a pretty obvious show of support for the protesters.

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Reuters/Bobby Yip

On the streets, the protests have taken on a carnival atmosphere, attracting local artists and musicians and even a bunch of finance guys who are grilling thousands of sausages. In fact, there’s plenty of free food:

Visitors to the city’s protest sites are seeking out distinct landmarks, like a “democracy wall” in Admiralty:

The umbrella tree:

And, on the Kowloon side of the city, a blockaded bus covered with messages of support for the protesters, which has proven impossible for police to move:

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Reuters/Tyrone Siu

The protests are even drawing the curious from mainland China. One software engineer from Dongguan said he planned to live off the free food that comes with wearing a yellow ribbon for the next few days, until his visa runs out.

Tomorrow, the atmosphere could be less like a carnival. Student activists have pledged to occupy “important government buildings” if the chief executive doesn’t resign, something almost no one thinks he will actually do.

But for tonight, Hong Kong is in a festive mood:

In another part of town, though, at an official public party for China’s National Day in Victoria Park, things look a bit less celebratory:

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