Activists lay flowers at memorial for Hong Kong protester

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Thousands of people in Hong Kong laid sunflowers and white lilies at a memorial site on Thursday for a man who fell to his death during protests against an extradition bill that has plunged the former British colony into turmoil.

Marco Leung, 35, fell from construction scaffolding in June after unfurling banners against now suspended legislation that would have let people be sent to mainland China for trial.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has made rare public apologies over upheaval from the bill, which triggered Hong Kong’s biggest crisis in decades, saying this week it was “dead” and work on it had been a “total failure.”

Those comments have not appeased protesters, who say nothing less than the bill’s full withdrawal will do.

More protests are planned for the weekend.

People of all ages attended the outdoor service for Leung at a public playground, where volunteers offered tissues to mourners and Red Cross workers stood by to provide advice.

Hundreds lined up in intermittent rain to pay respects, with the crowd swelling in the evening as people came from work.

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“Life is indeed precious ... But for freedom, life can be sacrificed,” Methodist minister Yuen Tin-Yau, one of the event’s organizers, said in a speech. “The reason why human beings on earth are human is to sacrifice themselves for the sake of benevolence, justice, friendship and freedom.”

Rowina Ngan, a 45-year-old textbook editor, said she was saddened and unsettled by the political standoff.

“The youngsters are very sad. I can’t find any solution for our kids. Society can’t accept ‘the bill is dead’, actually it’s more ‘our hearts are dead’.”

Stress and trauma over the turmoil have created an unprecedented mental health problem that the city is not equipped to deal with, medical professionals say.

Psychologists and social workers also attended the memorial to provide support.

Hong Kong’s youth have been at the forefront of the city’s biggest and most violent protests in decades, with police firing rubber bullets and tear gas in chaotic scenes.

Organizers read out a statement from Leung’s parents that thanked the community and expressed hope Hong Kong would see better days.

“Every brave Hong Konger going to the streets is doing so because they love Hong Kong so much,” the message said.

“Young people, please protect yourselves, and keep your body and soul together, then you have a chance to speak out about injustices in society.”

Writing by Anne Marie Roantree and John Ruwitch; Editing by Nick Macfie and Andrew Cawthorne