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Diplomacy, Politics

Hong Kong police and protesters engage in standoff near Beijing’s liaison office

Tear gas fired and clashes reported.


Written by

Updated: July 29, 2019

Hong Kong police fired tear gas in a bid to disperse protesters on Sunday (July 28) in a residential neighbourhood close to Beijing’s Liaison Office in the city.

The police and protesters were engaged in pitched battles on the hilly streets of Sai Ying Pun as scores of residents — some furious at the police — milled around to watch.  Protesters were seen pushing burning objects towards the police, including bins and metal carts.

Hong Kong’s urban rail operator MTR Corp said service on the Island Line had been suspended between Sai Ying Pun and Kennedy Town stations due to the ongoing unrest. About 30 bus services have been rerouted as well.

Broadcaster TVB said ferries to Macau from the Shun Tak Centre in Sheung Wan have been stopped, as police were facing off protesters on the road outside the ferry building on Connaught Drive West.

In a Facebook post, the police said they were conducting a dispersal operation eastward on Hong Kong Island as some protesters were committing arson at various locations, adding that they are appealing to the public to stay calm.

Thousands of other protesters are streaming westward of the island from Central, Wanchai and Causeway Bay, where they had earlier gathered for a peaceful rally.

Protesters had also set up barricades outside the Sogo department store in Causeway Bay, prompting it to shut early.

Student King Fok, 16, had earlier marched with friends from Central to Causeway Bay but was heading towards the island’s west to lend support after hearing news of the police firing tear gas. “We need to show the police that they cannot behave in this manner, as we keep saying, we come here together, we must leave together,” he said.

The police had raised a black flag warning of tear gas on the junction of Des Voeux Road West and Western Street.

In a statement posted on Facebook earlier, police said: “At around 7pm today, a group of protesters gathered on the thoroughfares in the vicinity of the Western District Police Station. As some protesters were throwing bricks at the police officers and the situation is drastically deteriorating, the police is now conducting a dispersal operation eastward with tear gas used.”

The police is appealing to the protesters to leave the area at once and not to charge towards police cordon lines, adding that members of the public should avoid travelling to the area.

Thousands of protesters, many clad in black, gathered at various locations in Hong Kong earlier on Sunday afternoon, deviating from the police-approved protest site of Chater Garden in Central.

Around 3.30pm, crowds at the Chater Garden public park started walking down Hennessy Road from Des Voeux Road Central towards Causeway Bay, chanting “Black cops, despicable” in Cantonese.

Hundreds of local residents were also standing on Western Street for an elevated view, some also shouting at the police.

Music teacher Krista Chencherick, who lives up the hill on Third Street, was there with her boyfriend and dog after returning from the beach. “We knew there was going to be something happening today and thought we’d come by to have a look. It’s important people are allowed to express themselves freely.

“We would like to be involved but we have our dog with us,” she said.

Yet another group gathered at the Golden Bauhinia Square near the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre in Wanchai. The sculpture at the square is a gift from China.

In a Facebook post, police said the protesters were deviating from the approved location of Chater Garden and obstructing traffic. It also appealed to members of the public to stay tuned to the latest announcements from the police.

Sunday’s rally – the eighth straight weekend of protests that began as opposition to a controversial extradition Bill – was originally planned as a protest march that would see participants move from Chater Garden to the Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park in Western, which is near China’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong.

Police have told protesters that they can gather only at Chater Garden, after application for the march – which was originally planned to end at Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park in Sheung Wan – was rejected by police on grounds of possible violence.

The five demands from protesters are: the extradition Bill be fully scrapped, the label of June 12 protests as a “riot” be removed, allegations of police abuse be investigated, the release of protesters who were arrested, and for universal suffrage to be rolled out by next year.

“We’re here for the same five requests and until the government responds to us, we’ll keep coming out,” Ms Ki Lo, 26, who was marching down Hennessy Road with a friend, told The Straits Times. “We also need to send a message that the way the police have been behaving is not acceptable.”

She said that given the police’s recent objection to mass gatherings, she is worried that Hong Kong will see a day where people no longer have freedom of speech and the right to protest freely.

While worried that she might get into trouble or lose her job for taking part in an illegal march, Ms Lo, who works in the finance sector, also said that the greater future of Hong Kong is more important and that it was worth her taking the risk.

Earlier in the day, ahead of the rally, organiser Ventus Lau called on the police not to prematurely clear the crowd and to show restraint, as he has the proper paperwork for the gathering at Chater Garden.

“As of now, we’re not calling on any peaceful participants of the rally to take part in any march. But if anyone, of their own initiative, decides to take part in any activities around the Sheung Wan area, I will encourage them and stand behind them,” Mr Lau said.

The event was intended to call attention to police action last Sunday, when law enforcement officers fired multiple rounds of tear gas as well as foam and rubber bullets to disperse protesters.

Meanwhile, large water barriers were put up around the Liaison Office as well as Western District Police Headquarters and Police Station ahead of the rally, broadcaster RTHK reported. Police officers were also deployed outside the Liaison Office, according to broadcaster TVB.

The Liaison Office put up a plastic casing over the red national emblem at its building, which was vandalised during protests on July 21, according to Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper. Protesters had thrown ink onto the emblem, sprayed graffiti on the building’s walls, defaced the office’s plaque and threw eggs at the building. The actions drew stern warnings from Beijing.

Bricks on brick-laid pavements on Connaught Road West – near the police HQ and police station as well as the Liaison Office – were glued together so that they cannot be dug up by protesters and used as missiles against law enforcers, broadcaster TVB reported.

Some shops in the area decided to shut early in view of the afternoon protest, while others did not open for business for the day.

VIOLENCE IN YUEN LONG

Sunday’s planned protest on the city’s main island comes a day after clashes between protesters and police in the northern town of Yuen Long, where a police-banned protest turned violent.

Police said that at around 3pm, some protesters started to block the roads and surround Yuen Long Police Station. Some of the protesters used metal poles, self-made shields to attack police officers and charge police cordon line. They also removed fences from roads to form road blocks.

Protesters, which organisers said numbered around 288,000, showed up to show their opposition to the assault a week ago by more than 100 white-shirted men who were armed with sticks and metal bars and were said to be linked to triads.

The men had attacked people who had been returning from an anti-extradition protest on Hong Kong island as well as commuters who had alighted at Yuen Long MTR station. The assault left at least 45 people injured.

Meanwhile, the organiser of Saturday’s protest in Yuen Long has been arrested for allegedly organising an illegal assembly, police said during a press conference earlier on Sunday.

Mr Max Chung, whose application to hold a rally in Yuen Long was rejected by police, was taken away after speaking at RTHK’s City Forum in Victoria Park on Sunday, a weekly public forum that brings politicians, academics and prominent figures together to discuss current issues.

GOVT CONDEMNS VIOLENCE

The government of Hong Kong has strongly condemned the protesters who took part in the violence on Yuen Long on Saturday, saying that the police will take serious follow-up actions.

In a statement on Sunday morning, the government said that it “deeply regretted that some people still took part in the public procession and public meeting in Yuen Long, despite the prohibition and objection by the police”.

The statement said: “After the public procession, some radical protesters violently charged police’s cordon lines, vandalised a police vehicle and blocked roads.

“The government strongly condemned the protesters for breaching the public peace and breaking the law deliberately. The police will take serious follow up actions with those violent protesters.”

Police have arrested 13 people, aged between 18 and 68, for offences including unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapon, assaulting police officer and assault. At least four police officers were injured.

The Hospital Authority said that as of 8am on Sunday, 24 people were treated in hospital after the protests. Two of the injured were in a serious condition, broadcaster TVB reported.

ANTI-EXTRADITION BILL

Hong Kong has been plunged into its worst crisis in recent history after millions of demonstrators took to the streets – and sporadic violent confrontations erupted between police and pockets of hardcore protesters.

The demonstrations were triggered by a controversial Bill that would have allowed fugitives to be extradited to several jurisdictions, including China. While Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the Bill has been shelved, her actions have done little to soothe the public’s anger.

The protests against the extradition Bill have since evolved into a call for wider democratic reforms and a halt to sliding freedoms.



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About the Author: The Straits Times is Singapore's top-selling newspaper.

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