Jan 1 rally sees some clashes over pro-independence placard

January 02, 2019 14:44
According to the organizer of the annual New Year's Day march, about 5,500 people took part in the event on Tuesday, but the police pegged the crowd at just 3,200 at the peak. Photo: HKEJ

Thousands of Hongkongers took to the streets on New Year's Day to express their unhappiness over the state of affairs in the city and the government's perceived failures and shortcomings.

The traditional January 1 rally witnessed some tense moments this year as a small group of pro-independence activists clashed with security guards at the government headquarters in Admiralty.

According to Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), the organizer of the latest rally, about 5,500 people joined the event Tuesday afternoon, compared with 10,000 during a similar protest in 2018 and 9,150 in 2017.

The police, however, estimated the crowd at 3,200 at the peak, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

Carrying banners, the participants, including members of pro-democracy parties, started from East Point Road in Causeway Bay at 3 pm and marched toward the Civic Square at the east wing forecourt of the Central Government Offices in Admiralty.

About 50 people from pro-independence groups including the Hong Kong National Front, Studentlocalism, and Students Independence Union also joined the street demonstration that bore the theme that all is not lost for Hong Kong yet and that hope still exists in the community.

During the protest, participants shouted slogans to voice their dissatisfaction with multiple decisions taken by the government last year.

Among other criticism, they dubbed the Lantau reclamation plan proposed in October by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor as a huge waste of public funds.

Meanwhile, authorities were also slammed for barring some pro-democracy candidates from running in elections.

Other issues raised included the justice department's decision to drop the case against former chief executive Leung Chun-ying in relation to his controversial dealings with the Australian firm UGL.

As such, the protesters demanded that Lam and her justice secretary, Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, should step down.

During the march, some members from pro-Beijing group Caring Hong Kong Power claimed that they would like to join the rally. The group had some conversation with CHRF convener Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, and said the CHRF should welcome people holding various views to join in.

Another pro-Beijing group Defend Hong Kong Campaign, meanwhile, stood by near the protesting crowd on the road and exchanged verbal fire with some of the protesters, accusing the CHRF of harboring pro-independence forces.

The pro-independence participants in the demonstration originally planned to disband on Arsenal Street in Wan Chai to show that they were not in agreement with the CHRF on all the issues. But they later decided to hold a rally at Harcourt Garden, but a few of them continued to head for the Civic Square.

A man tried to get into the square with a placard that bore a message that said two systems come only with two countries. The move resulted in clashes between him, assisted by several pro-independence members, and security guards who came to stop the man from doing so.

According to the government, two security guards fell onto the ground in the moments of chaos.

Authorities told the protesters, through a loudspeaker, that no signs would be allowed into the square that would cast doubts on national unity and territorial integrity, but the man still ended up entering the area successfully under the escort of other protesters and gave a speech on stage.

Sham told media after the march that although CHRF does not approve the idea of Hong Kong independence, it believes that no one should be shut out from the rally just because of their political views.

Banning any specific person from entering the square is tantamount to deprivation of human rights and abandonment of rule of law, Sham said.

Sham claimed that his organization will decide in its next meeting whether to apply for a judicial review against the decision to ban protesters from entering Civic Square with political placards.

In a statement issued Tuesday evening, a government spokesman said the right of Hong Kong people to take part in public processions and their freedom to express their views are fully respected, but added that authorities will remain steadfast in protecting and upholding the rule of law.

The spokesman stressed that all prosecution decisions are made by the Department of Justice independently without fear or favor, and are free from any political consideration.

Among other issues, the spokesman promised that the government will consider in detail the different recommendations submitted by the Task Force on Land Supply.

Shortly before midnight, the government issued another statement to condemn the scuffles seen at the Civic Square, reiterating its zero tolerance on Hong Kong independence.

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