Hong Kong police fired pepperballs and made 300 arrests as thousands took to the streets on Wednesday to express their anger at China’s proposed national security legislation, which struck international alarm on freedoms in the city.
In the heart of the financial district, riot police fired peppercorns to disperse a crowd, and elsewhere in the city, police gathered dozens of suspected demonstrators, forcing them to sit on the sidewalks before searching their belongings.
A strong police presence around the Legislative Council dissuaded the demonstrators from wanting to disturb the debate on a bill which would criminalize the non-respect of the Chinese national anthem. The bill is expected to come into force next month.
Angry at the perceived threats to the freedoms of the semi-autonomous city, people of all ages took to the streets, some dressed in black, some wearing office clothes or school uniforms and some hiding their faces under umbrellas opened in scenes reminiscent of the unrest that rocked Hong Kong last year.
“Although you are afraid in your heart, you must express yourself,” said Chang, 29, an employee and protester dressed in black with a respirator and glasses in her backpack.
Many stores, banks and offices closed early.
The latest demonstrations follow the Chinese government’s proposal to legislate on national security to fight secession, subversion and terrorism in Hong Kong.
The planned laws could see Chinese intelligence agencies set up bases in Hong Kong.
The proposal, unveiled in Beijing last week, sparked the first street unrest in Hong Kong on Sunday, months after police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the protesters.
The United States, Britain, the European Union and others have expressed concern about the legislation, widely seen as a possible turning point for China’s freest city and one of the main financial centers of the world.
But Chinese authorities and the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government say there is no threat to the city’s high degree of autonomy and that the new security law would be tightly targeted.
“It is for the long term stability of Hong Kong and China, it will not affect freedom of assembly and expression and it will not affect the city’s status as a financial center,” said Hong Kong Secretary General Matthew Cheung told reporters.
US President Donald Trump, already at odds with Beijing over trade and the new coronavirus pandemic, said Tuesday that the United States will announce a firm response to planned legislation this week.
China responded by saying that it would take the necessary countermeasures for any foreign interference.
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has pledged humanitarian aid to anyone from Hong Kong fleeing to the Autonomous Island.
Asian stocks have slipped on rising tensions between the United States and China. The Hong Kong stock market led the decline with a drop of 0.46%. [MKTS/GLOB]
In a downtown shopping center, protesters chanted “Free Hong Kong! Revolution of our time” and “Hong Kong’s independence, the only way out”.
A protester was seen with a sign saying “one country, two systems is a lie”, referring to a political system put in place when Great Britain transferred the city in 1997 to China, which is supposed to guarantee the freedoms of Hong Kong until at least 2047.
“I’m afraid … if you don’t go out today, you can never get out. It’s a law that affects us directly,” said Ryan Tsang, hotel manager.
As protests in the financial district died down, hundreds of people gathered in the popular district of Mong Kok on the Kowloon Peninsula, where protests erupted several times last year. The walkers briefly blocked the roads before being chased by the police.
About 300 people were arrested, most of them for illegal assembly, in three districts, police said.
In an interview with the Chinese public television channel CCTV, Hong Kong security secretary John Lee said that the police have adopted new tactics to control the situation as soon as “something happens”.
(With the exception of the title, this story was not edited by GalacticGaming staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)