If anyone needed proof of public support for the ongoing democracy protest across Hong Kong, they need only open their eyes and ears.
The movement has spread beyond the main business and financial district to Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok. It’s going strong hours after the government announced the pullout of riot police from the streets.
Clearly, the government bungled its response to the protest.
Instead of turning public opinion against the protesters for causing disruption to daily life, it galvanized support for the movement from ordinary citizens who saw the police — their own sworn protectors — move on peaceful unarmed civilians with tear gas and pepper spray on Sunday night and early Monday morning.
When it was all over, 87 tear gas canisters had been fired, dozens of people had been injured and arrests made, according to reports.
But that is hardly the whole story. When Hong Kong people woke up Monday morning to news of the overnight fiasco, they showed their anger at their government and outrage at the police by swelling the ranks of demonstrators.
The government found itself backed into a corner and announced that riot police would be withdrawn from the streets but the protesters were unmoved.
That is perhaps the first sign the public has lost trust in the guardians of public order, although it has long been suspicious of their government.
Until now, even as they opposed the policies of their unpopular leader in protest marches, Hong Kong people have seen the police at a respectful distance, lending their presence only to maintain order.
When Executive Councilor Bernard Chan lamented the harsh police action and warned public trust in the police force could take time to mend, he expressed a rare public admission by a Hong Kong government official that, indeed, things could have been better managed.
So did Executive Council Convenor Lam Woon-kwong.
But pro-establishment politicians were unrepentant.
Former security chief Regina Ip trivialized the incident by saying nothing would have been achieved if the tear gas was thrown into an empty park.
Ip is forgetting that she is no longer a government security minister but an elected representative of the people.
She went on to blame the demonstrators for the chaos and said they were being directed by certain individuals behind the scenes.
Her remarks rekindled memories of the time she backed a Beijing-sponsored anti-sedition bill in 2003 which drove Hong Kong people in their hundreds of thousands into the streets in protest.
As if that wasn’t enough, Ip got an assist from Robert Chow, the leader of a Beijing loyalist group opposed to Occupy Central.
Chow, who famously vowed to leave Hong Kong if Occupy Central won wide public support, continued to belittle the movement even as he asked the demonstrators to confine their protest to Admiralty and Central and “give Causeway Bay and Mong Kok back to ordinary citizens”.
If Chow had been hoping to win points for his call, he was mistaken.
In fact, he blew too many points trying to win Hong Kong people over just when it was beginning to look like he might succeed.
It happened during the summer holiday when his Silent Majority group convinced Hong Kong’s middle class that Occupy Central wasn’t the only way to go — until he announced a hotline to tell on student protesters who were planning a class boycott.
Now Chow and his allies are trying to salvage what little public sympathy they might still have.
Which, to me, is very, very little.
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