Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Hong Kong protesters take over key roads

Aug 05. 2019
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By The Straits Times/ANN

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HONG KONG — Protests escalated again in Hong Kong on Sunday (Aug 4) with riot police firing tear gas to disperse demonstrators on Queen’s Road West near Beijing’s Liaison Office in the Western district and later at major shopping area Causeway Bay.

After firing several rounds of tear gas, the police managed to clear some protesters off Percival Street in Causeway Bay. They were in a standoff on the street, about 50m apart. The air was heavy with the smell of tear gas and many diners from nearby restaurants were coughing and covering their faces.

Buses and traffic were earlier forced to reroute near Hennessy Road in Causeway Bay after the demonstrators spilled out by the hundreds from the MTR station to take over the area, which hosts high-end department stores and upscale restaurants. Many started chanting and calling on passers-by to join a planned city-wide strike on Monday.

By 9.30pm, protesters blockaded Hennessy Road all the way down Wanchai, using a combination of traffic cones, fluorescent tape and cling film, in a bid to slow police advances, if any. Sogo department store also shut early, as did most shops around the area.

On Hennessy Road near Tim Lok Drive, at least six trams were stationary.

In a statement, a Hong Kong government spokesman said some protesters were “maliciously damaging traffic lights” on Hennessy Road and vandalising government properties. It also said the police strongly condemned the “illegal acts” of the protesters and warned them to leave immediately. They also advised drivers to avoid travelling to the area.

Some of the protesters moved on towards Cross-Harbour Tunnel and temporarily blocked the all lanes on the roads with makeshift barricades, causing a massive traffic standstill.

Another group moved towards Bauhinia Square and vandalised the giant statue of a golden Bauhinia blakeana at the centre of the area.

A video posted on the Hong Kong Police’s Facebook page said the officers would be introducing a new method of identifying protesters by spraying them with liquid dye, adding that the spray is edible and harmless, but will stay on skin and clothes as a way of marking demonstrators.

Earlier in the evening, a group of black-clad protesters hurled rocks, bricks and eggs at Tseung Kwan O Police Station while taunting officers to come out, breaking several windows and leaving dents on the exterior of the building. Others threw objects into the station compound and sprayed graffiti on the building’s walls.

Large water-filled barriers set up earlier outside the station did not stop the protesters from attacking the building.

Separately, another group of protesters removed railings from the kerbside and set up barricades near the Metro City housing estate and shopping centre in Tseung Kwan O.

The police said in a statement that the illegal acts on Mau Yip Road near Po Lam MTR Station had affected traffic in the area, warning the protesters to stop the obstruction.

Referring to the vandalism at the police station, the police warned the protesters to “stop their illegal acts at once and to leave peacefully”. It added in a statement issued at 6.13pm that it would conduct a dispersal operation very soon, condemning the violent acts by the protesters.

Soon after, the protesters left the area outside the police station.

The attacks by the protesters came after a largely peaceful march against a controversial extradition Bill ended on Sunday afternoon.

Meanwhile, a second rally at Hong Kong Island’s Kennedy Town, an expat-friendly residential neighbourhood, started with talks by organisers and guest speakers at Belcher Bay Park. The rally was planned to end at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park in Sai Ying Pun, near China’s liaison office in the city.

Earlier in the day, thousands of Hong Kongers had marched off from a park in the Tseung Kwan O district, a quiet area east of Kowloon.

Braving warm and humid weather, the mostly black-clad protesters packed into Po Tsui Park, waiting for the march to start at 2.30pm as they shouted slogans such as “Hong Kong people, ga yau” or “Hong Kong people, keep it up” in Cantonese.

Organisers said the march, postponed from early last month, was meant to “give a voice” to the people of Tseung Kwan O.

The march had been planned to end at the Hong Kong Velodrome Park and marchers were supposed to disperse from there.

Participants of the march said they were out in force to protect their neighbourhood and to make sure that the government hears them.

“You look at the photos from last night, what if that (tear gas) happens to us here?” Tseung Kwan O resident T. K. Cheung told The Straits Times, referring to the clashes between protesters and police in Wong Tai Sin on Saturday night.

During the clashes between protesters and police in the residential area of Wong Tai Sin, a big group of angry residents who were upset by the firing of tear gas in their neighbourhood came out to shout at the riot police. Some of them also clashed with the officers.

Mr Cheung, a retired technician, said it was encouraging to see people in Wong Tai Sin stand up for their neighbourhood.

“Of course, I’m also here to support the youth, they’re very brave. And we need to make sure that the government hears us,” he added.

Housewife Inez Lam, in her 30s, who was marching with her two sons aged four and six in Tseung Kwan O on Sunday, said: “This is a good way to show my boys that marches can be very peaceful. We have a right to protest and we need to stand up to protect it.”

The rally was slightly more muted than previous outings as protesters marched under a slight drizzle.

Many were holding up signs and banners with the five demands that protesters have been calling for: to completely withdraw the extradition Bill; to withdraw the characterisation of the June 12 events as a “riot”; for an independent commission to be set up investigating police actions; for charges to be dropped against arrested protesters; and for universal suffrage.

About two hours after the start of the march, the first batch of participants reached Velodrome Park, the end of the planned march. Organisers said 150,000 people turned up for the march, while police pegged the number at 27,000 at the peak of the march on the approved route.

Many of the younger protesters in Tseung Kwan O said they would be heading to the second rally in Kennedy Town in the western end of Sai Wan on Hong Kong Island.

In view of the planned rally, several leisure and sports facilities in the Central and Western District were closed at 3pm on Sunday.

Sunday’s rallies follow violent clashes between protesters and police in Mongkok, Tsim Sha Tsui and Wong Tai Sin the previous night, where more than 20 were arrested for various offences including unlawful assembly and assault.

It is the ninth consecutive weekend of demonstrations over a contentious extradition Bill which would allow for the handover of fugitives to several jurisdictions including mainland China.

Following mass rallies that brought millions onto the streets over two weekends, the Bill has since been indefinitely shelved. But public anger is still raging and many are calling for electoral reforms while protesting the police’s heavy-handed tactics when dealing with protesters.

For the past two Sundays, police have been in pitched street battles with a small group of protesters, volleying tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse a defiant crowd massed close to Beijing’s liaison office.

MONGKOK VIOLENCE

On Saturday, tens of thousands deviated from an approved protest route in Mongkok and spilled onto Nathan Road, the main thoroughfare running through several districts on the Kowloon Peninsula popular with tourists.

Black-clad protesters were locked in a stand-off with police after surrounding police stations in the Tsim Sha Tsui and Mongkok districts, vandalising station exteriors and lobbing rocks and flaming objects into the stations.

They had also briefly occupied the Cross Harbour Tunnel, a key passage running under Victoria Harbour connecting Kowloon to Hong Kong Island.

After police fired tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the crowd, some protesters hurled petrol bombs, bricks, glass bottles and a large amount of miscellaneous objects at police officers, the police said in a statement on Sunday morning.

The protesters also directed high-power lasers at the officers, committed arson at various locations and pushed a burning rubbish bin towards the officers.

Another group of protesters were also locked in a stand-off with police at a bus station at Wong Tai Sin, a residential area, throwing objects such as umbrellas at the officers. Some attacked the police with fire extinguishers, the police said.

When officers were trying to retreat from the scene to their police vehicles, some protesters surrounded them and vandalised the vehicles.

A group of protesters subsequently surrounded Wong Tai Sin Disciplined Services Quarters and hurled fireworks and objects into the building, breaking the glass windows of lower-floor residential units.

“Police strongly condemn the radical protesters who disregarded law and order. Resolute enforcement actions will be taken against all illegal and violent acts,” the police said in the statement. “Police are capable and determined to maintain law and order and will not tolerate any violence.”

China’s official Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary on Sunday that the central government would not sit back and let the situation continue, while reiterating that it is sticking to the “one country, two systems” regime.

The commentary warned that “evil forces which are trying to challenge the central government’s authority, to destroy the one country, two systems bottom line” will be judged by history.

Saturday’s unrest began with a police-approved march in Kowloon, a broad peninsula that sits across a harbour from Hong Kong’s main island. The march drew people of all ages, including young families and elderly people.

Police estimated some 4,200 people took part in the march in Mongkok, while organisers pegged the number at 120,000.

In a statement on Sunday, the government condemned the violent protesters who disregarded law and order and blatantly breached the public peace.

“The police will strictly enforce the law. Violent protesters who breached the law should also be brought to justice,” the statement said.

Hong Kong has been mired in its most serious political crisis since its handover from Britain to China 22 years ago with millions taking to the streets. What initially began as opposition to the extradition Bill has now escalated to people calling for political reforms and the resignation of embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

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