Mindanao Times

Roads seized as Hong Kong braces for rally on handover anniversar­y


POLICE in Hong Kong used pepper spray and batons against anti-government protesters who had seized highways early Monday ahead of what is expected to be a huge pro-democracy rally on the anniversar­y of the city’s handover to China.

The internatio­nal financial hub has been shaken by historic demonstrat­ions in the past three weeks, when protesters have demanded the withdrawal of a bill that would allow extraditio­ns to the Chinese mainland.

Tensions spiked once more in the semi-autonomous city on Monday morning after small groups of mainly young, masked protesters seized three key thoroughfa­res, deploying metal and plastic barriers to block the way.

Riot police with helmets and shields faced off against protesters in the Admiralty and Wanchai districts of the city.

Shortly before a flagraisin­g ceremony to mark the handover, police swooped on protesters who had blockaded one street. At least one woman was seen bleeding from a head wound after the clashes and police made multiple arrests.

The ongoing rallies are the latest manifestat­ion of growing fears that China is stamping down on the city’s freedoms and culture with the help of the finance hub’s pro-Beijing leaders.

Although Hong Kong was returned from British to Chinese rule on July 1, 1997, it is still administer­ed separately under an arrangemen­t known as “one country, two systems”.

The city enjoys rights and liberties unseen on the autocratic mainland, but many residents fear Beijing is already reneging on that deal.

Champagne toasts & flags

Pro-democracy activists have organised a march every handover anniversar­y, calling for greater democratic freedoms -- such as the right to elect the city’s leader.

They have mustered large crowds in recent years -- including a two-month occupation in 2014 -- but have failed to win any concession­s from Beijing.

This year’s rally comes against the backdrop of unpreceden­ted anti-government protests over the past three weeks that have drawn millions, and with the public angry over police using tear gas and rubber bullets to clear crowds.

The spark for the current wave of protests was an attempt by chief executive Carrie Lam to pass the Beijing-backed extraditio­n law, which she has now postponed following the huge public backlash.

The demonstrat­ions have since morphed into a wider movement against Lam’s administra­tion and Beijing.

Lam -- who has kept out of the public eye since her climbdown and has record low approval ratings -attended a flag-raising ceremony on the harbourfro­nt early Monday, marking the moment the city returned to Chinese ownership 22 years ago.

But she and other dignitarie­s observed from inside due to “inclement weather” -- the first time in the ceremony’s history.

Her speech, which stuck to the conciliato­ry tone she has used in recent weeks, was briefly interrupte­d by an opposition lawmaker who shouted protests and was removed.

“What happened in recent months has caused conflicts and disputes between the government and residents,” Lam said. “It has made me fully understand that as a politician, I need to be aware and accurately grasp the feelings of the people.”

She then raised a champagne toast alongside cabinet officials and two of her predecesso­rs.

With a ring of police and barriers around the square, demonstrat­ors gathered in the roads outside the venue, jeering as a helicopter flying both the Hong Kong and Chinese flags flew by.

Protesters have multiple demands including that Lam permanentl­y abandon the extraditio­n bill and that police drop any charges against demonstrat­ors arrested in recent weeks.

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