24 May 2019
Protesters enter the Civic Square, located at the east wing forecourt of the government headquarters in Admiralty, on Monday. Photo: HKEJ
Protesters enter the Civic Square, located at the east wing forecourt of the government headquarters in Admiralty, on Monday. Photo: HKEJ

Clashes mar New Year’s Day protest at Civic Square

Thousands of Hong Kong people took to the streets on the first day of the year, protesting against the government’s co-location plan for the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link after Beijing approved it last week, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

Clashes between the protesters and the police erupted at the newly reopened Civic Square at the government headquarters in Admiralty.

Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the organizer of the annual pro-democracy march, said the turnout was about 10,000, while police estimated the crowd at about 6,200 at its peak.

The march, themed “Protect Hong Kong”, started from East Point Road in Causeway Bay at around 2:30 p.m.

Marchers chanted and held up banners to express their objections to several issues, including the co-location arrangement for the Express Rail Link, changes to the rules of procedure at the Legislative Council, legislation of Article 23 of the Basic Law regarding national security, political oppression of pro-democracy activists, monopoly by consortiums, and social injustice.

Participants included Democratic Party founding chairman and former chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association Martin Lee Chu-ming, Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit, lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang representing the legal functional constituency, Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan Suk-chong, retired Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, one of the founders of the Occupy Central movement.

CHRF Convenor Sammy Ip said the fact that so many people were willing to sacrifice their holiday and participate in the demonstration to show their discontent with the government was inspiring.

Before the start of the march, a man was arrested by police for allegedly damaging a protest banner and some objects used by the demonstrators.

Some pro-independence advocates joined the march, only to cause tension between them and members of a pro-Beijing group called Defend Hong Kong Campaign.

Several political groups took advantage of the large crowd by setting up booths along the streets to seek contributions. The Justice Defend Fund, for example, sought to raise funds to support jailed activists and lawmakers disqualified for inappropriate oath-taking. 

The CHRF suddenly announced that the march would proceed to an area outside the Civic Square at the east wing forecourt of the government headquarters. 

The Civic Square had been closed since the 2014 Occupy movement until it was reopened to the public with restricted access last Thursday.

Meanwhile, clashes between the police and some protesters erupted. Several persons, including two security guards, were sent to hospital. The security guards tried to prevent protesters from making their way up to an elevated platform flying the national and Hong Kong flags in the square.

CHRF vice-convenor Carlos Hung said the organizers decided to change the destination of the march to protest the restrictions on the use of the Civic Square. They said its reopening was in fact for government workers only but not for the public.

Ip told media that the CHRF will ask lawmakers to talk to the administration about relaxing the terms of use of the square.

A government spokesman said the right of people to take part in protests and their freedom of expression are fully respected, and the government has approved the use of the re-opened East Wing Forecourt of the Central Government Offices for a public meeting after the march on Monday.

The spokesman called on the public to abide by the relevant rules for users.

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