Xi draws ‘red line’ as pro­test­ers march

Huge se­cu­rity op­er­a­tion in Hong Kong

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

China’s Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping warned yes­ter­day that any chal­lenge to Bei­jing’s con­trol over Hong Kong crossed a “red line”, as tens of thou­sands call­ing for more democ­racy marched through the city 20 years af­ter it was handed back by Bri­tain. Xi spoke in a tele­vised ad­dress af­ter swear­ing in new Hong Kong leader Car­rie Lam, who is al­ready be­ing cast by crit­ics as a China stooge in a city where many are an­gry at Bei­jing’s tight­en­ing grip on the free­doms of its nearly eight mil­lion peo­ple.

A huge se­cu­rity op­er­a­tion shut down large parts of Hong Kong for Xi’s three-day visit, re­flect­ing Bei­jing’s con­cern that there should be no em­bar­rass­ment ahead of a key Com­mu­nist Party congress later this year which is ex­pected to cement his po­si­tion as the most pow­er­ful Chi­nese leader in a gen­er­a­tion. Xi said yes­ter­day that any threat to China’s sovereignty and se­cu­rity or to the power of the cen­tral gov­ern­ment “crosses the red line and is ab­so­lutely im­per­mis­si­ble”.

He also warned against any­one en­dan­ger­ing Hong Kong’s con­sti­tu­tion or us­ing the city “to carry out in­fil­tra­tion and sab­o­tage ac­tiv­i­ties against the main­land”. The mes­sage comes as young ac­tivists have emerged call­ing for self-de­ter­mi­na­tion or even full in­de­pen­dence for Hong Kong, which has in­fu­ri­ated Bei­jing. Just hours af­ter Xi left the city yes­ter­day af­ter­noon, or­ga­niz­ers es­ti­mated 60,000 peo­ple marched from Vic­to­ria Park to gov­ern­ment of­fices in cen­tral Hong Kong in an an­nual pro-democ­racy protest.

Pro­test­ers also called for the re­lease of can­cer-stricken Chi­nese dis­si­dent Liu Xiaobo, who was given med­i­cal pa­role ear­lier this week but re­mains on the main­land. “Sup­pres­sion by the regime has never let up and I don’t see any end in sight,” said ac­tivist Nathan Law, Hong Kong’s youngest leg­is­la­tor, who was ar­rested Wed­nes­day over an anti-China sit-in and at­tended the protest af­ter be­ing re­leased Fri­day. Xi in­sisted that Hong Kong had “more ex­ten­sive demo­cratic rights and free­doms than at any other time in its his­tory” in his speech and pledged to up­hold its semi­au­tonomous sta­tus. But Bei­jing’s for­eign min­istry de­clared Fri­day that the doc­u­ment signed by Bri­tain and China which ini­ti­ated the han­dover “is no longer rel­e­vant”. The Sino-Bri­tish Joint Dec­la­ra­tion gave Hong Kong rights un­seen on the main­land through a “one coun­try, two sys­tems” agree­ment, last­ing 50 years.

‘Gang­sters and mobs’

There are grow­ing fears that free­doms guar­an­teed by the han­dover deal are now un­der threat, with Chi­nese author­i­ties ac­cused of ab­duc­tions and in­ter­fer­ing in a range of ar­eas, from pol­i­tics to me­dia and ed­u­ca­tion.Xi cau­tioned that po­lit­i­cal con­flict would “se­verely hin­der” Hong Kong’s eco­nomic and so­cial de­vel­op­ment and called for ed­u­ca­tion mea­sures to pro­mote China’s na­tional cul­ture and his­tory.

A pro­posal to in­clude pa­tri­otic ed­u­ca­tion in Hong Kong schools met with huge protests in 2012 and has since been shelved. Pro-China sup­port­ers jeered and booed yes­ter­day’s democ­racy march, shout­ing: “Long live the com­mu­nist party! This is China’s soil!” Ear­lier in the day, loy­al­ists had also tar­geted a small peace­ful march by ac­tivists in mem­ory of the vic­tims of Bei­jing’s 1989 Tianan­men Square crack­down. Lead­ing ac­tivist Joshua Wong ac­cused “pro-China gang­sters and mobs” for in­sti­gat­ing the at­tack.

Democ­racy cam­paign­ers in­clud­ing Wong were taken away in po­lice vans, with two of them say­ing they had been hit by of­fi­cers in­side, be­fore all were re­leased. Ac­tivists said they had been re­peat­edly tar­geted dur­ing Xi’s visit. “What we’ve ex­pe­ri­enced this week­end was a whole new level of in­tim­i­da­tion and di­rect vi­o­lence that’s un­prece­dented,” said cam­paigner Avery Ng of League of So­cial Democrats.—AFP

—AP

HONG KONG: Pro­test­ers carry a large im­age of jailed Chi­nese No­bel Peace lau­re­ate Liu Xiaobo as they march dur­ing the an­nual pro-democ­racy protest in Hong Kong yes­ter­day.

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