23 February 2019
Tens of thousands of demonstrators are shown in a vigil in Admiralty last night. Earlier, the government withdrew riot police from the streets. Photo: Bloomberg
Tens of thousands of demonstrators are shown in a vigil in Admiralty last night. Earlier, the government withdrew riot police from the streets. Photo: Bloomberg

Govt backdown or calm before another storm?

The contrast could not be starker.

On Sunday, police in full riot gear cracked down on unarmed student protesters with tear gas and pepper spray in Admiralty, turning it into a virtual battlefield.

The next day, when tens of thousands of Hongkongers joined the rally in Central, Admiralty, Wan Chai, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, most of the policemen were gone, no riot squads in sight.

When EJ Insight reporters visited Admiralty last night, there was no acrid smell from tear gas. Canisters had been removed. Not a single policeman was seen in Harcourt Road and Queensway or inside the Admiralty MTR station.

About 30,000 protesters had gathered in a closed section of Harcourt Road and on nearby flyovers. Morale was apparently high.

The government maintained virtually no police presence in the area after announcing the pullback of anti-riot units earlier in the day. There were fewer than 10 policemen near the footbridge entrance to the Central Government Offices and none of them carried heavy weapons.

Also, media reports said policemen were nowhere to be found in certain areas in Causeway Bay and Mong Kok where protesters had gathered.

It is said the government backed down after a fierce public backlash over repeated and excessive use of force by the police against the demonstrators.

But the almost complete police absence from the protest venues has raised safety concern given the large crowds. This is when police are needed in case of emergency.

On Tuesday, rumors were rife about a government conspiracy.

Occupy Central figures including Hong Kong Television Network chairman Ricky Wong took to Facebook to warn the protesters that troublemakers might infiltrate their ranks, giving the police an excuse to mount another crackdown.

Chan Kin-man, a co-organizer of Occupy Central which is spearheading the protest, echoed a similar warning.

In Facebook posts, users urged the protesters to remain calm and avoid any confrontation or violence. Some Facebook users participating in the Mong Kok sit-in wrote that they saw a number of tattooed people acting suspiciously near the protest site.

A group of demonstrators in Argyle Street and Nathan Road in Mong Kok panicked when a speeding Mercedes-Benz car charged into them early this morning. No one was hurt and the driver was later arrested.

RTHK reported a slight commotion near the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts in Wan Chai early this morning when someone blew a whistle, sending everyone up on their feet.

So far, the protesters have been orderly and peaceful.

Some volunteers were seen going around protest sites collecting trash and spraying air freshener. The protesters have given way to ambulances and service vehicles.

And, unlike mass protests elsewhere, there has not been a single overturned vehicle or burning tires, no smashed shop windows.

British newspaper The Independent called them the “world’s most polite protesters”, cleaning up, recycling waste and even apologizing to policemen after a night of chaos.

– Contact the writer at [email protected]


EJ Insight writer

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