HK braces for more protests during festival weekend

September 13, 2019 09:46
Pro-Beijing and anti-SAR government demonstrators engage in lunchtime scuffles at the IFC mall in Central on Thursday. Photo: Reuters

Hong Kong activists plan to combine pro-democracy protests with traditional lantern celebrations marking the Mid-Autumn Festival this weekend, after a brief lull in sometimes violent demonstrations that have rocked the Chinese-ruled city since June.

The protest schedule includes another in a series of “stress tests” of the airport, which in recent weeks have seen the blocking of approach roads, street fires and the trashing of a nearby MTR subway station.

Activists plan to gather outside the British consulate on Sunday to demand that China honors the Sino-British Joint Declaration that was signed in 1984, laying out the former British colony’s future after its handover to China in 1997.

The current unrest was originally prompted by anger over planned legislation to allow extraditions to China, but has broadened into calls for greater democracy and for Communist rulers in Beijing to leave the city alone.

Police have responded to violence in recent weeks with tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, water cannon and baton charges, as well as firing several live shots in the air, prompting complaints of excessive force.

The Mid-Autumn Festival, which falls on Friday this year, is a harvest celebration observed throughout the Chinese-speaking world and in East and Southeast Asia. It is celebrated with mooncakes, gazing at the full moon and colorful lantern displays.

Protesters plan a series of lantern-carrying human chains and sit-ins at MTR shopping malls and on the scenic Victoria Peak, popular with mainland tour groups, and on Lion Rock, separating the New Territories from the Kowloon peninsula.

There were some lunchtime scuffles on Thursday between pro-Beijing and anti-SAR government demonstrators in the mall of the IFC, a prominent skyscraper on the newly reclaimed Central waterfront. Some top-brand stores briefly closed.

Anti-government protesters gathered there again after office hours, chanting “five demands, not one less” and “add oil, Hong Kong people”, a phrase meaning keep drawing strength that has become a rallying cry of the protest movement.

One of the protest movement's five demands was the withdrawal of the extradition bill, to which Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has agreed. The four others are: retraction of the word “riot” to describe the protests; release of all arrested demonstrators, now numbering 1,365; an independent inquiry into perceived police brutality; and the right for Hong Kong people to choose their own leaders.

There were also clashes, involving hundreds of people pushing and pulling, at the Yuen Long MTR station in the rural New Territories. The station was the scene of violence on the night of July 21, when it was stormed by more than 100 white-shirted men wielding pipes and clubs who wounded 45 people, including both anti-government protesters and passers-by.

Meanwhile, police denied the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) permission for a protest march from Causeway Bay to Central on Sunday.

“In previous marches applied for by CHRF, participants, reporters and police suffered serious injuries,” police said in their refusal letter to the group.

Dozens turned out for a protest outside Prince Edward MTR metro station to mark the night of Aug. 31, when police were caught on CCTV beating protesters on a train as they cowered on the floor.

The MTR has since become a prime target of vandalism. Activists are angry that the MTR closes stations to stop protesters from gathering and have demanded the transit company release CCTV footage of the beatings. Reuters

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