Saturday, August 31, 2019
New protests in Hong Kong have again led to serious clashes between protesters and the police. Near the seat of the parliament, security forces used tear gas and water cannons against demonstrators. Radical activists hurled objects, stones and incendiary devices.
Despite the ban on a mass demonstration, thousands had once again taken to the streets. Protesters occupied the arteries near the government district. The police spoke of an "unauthorized assembly" and "illegal actions". Protesters set fire to barricades. At the Victoria Park, a police officer fired a warning shot at his service weapon, local media reported and heard on a video. The police also used rubber bullets.
Police officers disguised as activists
A water cannon sprayed blue paint on protesters, possibly to mark them. There were reports of indignation that police officers disguised themselves as activists and mixed in with the demonstrators to arrest people. Possibly as a warning, Chinese state media reported that China's military had transferred new paramilitary forces to Shenzhen on the border with Hong Kong.
In video footage, which should have been taken by citizens, military vehicles were seen, which rolled in on Saturday morning in the border town. Details about strength and purpose of the troop deployment were not mentioned. According to the Gobal Times, these are "special forces" and personnel of the paramilitary elite group called "Wujing". The political atmosphere in Hong Kong is heating up as several leading members of the democracy movement have been arrested. Last Friday, the opposition members of the Legislative Council, Au Nok-hin and Jeremy Tam, were picked up.
They are accused of obstructing the police. MEP Au also allegedly attacked a police officer. Indictment has been filed against a total of nine prominent heads of the movement. The day had begun with a peaceful march. The protesters responded to a call for a religious procession that took them along prominent sacral sites to the historic Sheung Wan district and on to the government district. Many just walked, as they said, peacefully on the pavement. But in the late afternoon there were roadblocks elsewhere. The police of the Chinese Special Administrative Region had banned an originally planned mass demonstration for security reasons.
"Fight together for our law"
With the protest march, the democracy movement actually wanted to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the failure of the 2014 electoral reform, which the communist leadership in Beijing did not want to allow. "It's a day of remembrance for us," said demonstrator Beatrix Wong. "That's why we've come together to fight for our rights together, we do it without permission, because it's a human right."
The end of the electoral reform in 2014 marked the beginning of the pro-democracy demonstrations known today as the "umbrella movement", which had paralyzed parts of the Asian economic and financial metropolis for weeks. The name comes from the umbrellas, with which the protesters at that time protected themselves against the sun, the rain, but also against the pepper spray of the police. Following the ban, the organizers of the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) withdrew their call for the demonstration. It would have been an illegal gathering so participants would have to expect legal consequences. Hundreds of thousands of people followed earlier calls to the group – up to 1.7 million according to CHRF figures.
The police claimed that the arrests of leading members of the anti-government movement had nothing to do with the planned new demonstrations. Several of them, including the well-known former student leader Joshua Wong and his associate Agnes Chow, were released on bail a short time later. Protesters accused the police of wanting to create a "climate of fear" in order to keep people away from new protests. For almost three months, there have been protests in Hong Kong, often resulting in clashes between a small section of the protesters and the police. The protest movement fears the increasing influence of the Chinese government on Hong Kong and a curtailment of its freedoms. The demonstrators also demand an independent investigation of police violence during the protests.
Since its return to China in 1997, the former British Crown Colony has been autonomously governed in its own territory as a Chinese Special Administrative Region under the principle of "one country, two systems". The seven million inhabitants are under China's sovereignty, but – unlike the people of the Communist People's Republic – enjoy more rights such as freedom of expression and assembly.