The organizer of a planned anti-violence protest in Hong Kong's Yuen Long district, where pro-China thugs attacked train passengers and anti-extradition marchers last Sunday, says he will go ahead and protest in spite of police refusal to approve the march.
Police on Thursday turned down an application for permission to hold a weekend protest ending at the Yuen Long MTR Station, citing a "risk of violence" after men in white shirts laid into commuters and returning protesters with wooden and metal rods on the West Rail platform on Sunday evening, leaving dozens of people in hospital.
"The police predict that Saturday's march will pose a severe threat to public order and to public safety," acting regional police commander Tsang Ching-fo told journalists. "If protesters turn out anyway, then strictly speaking they will be breaking the law, which could mean that there are arrests, depending on how events unfold."
The formal police response cited a number of radical and violent comments circulating online that gave "reason to believe that there would be violent physical clashes between protesters and indigenous villagers." However, police said they would go ahead and prepare for the march anyway.
Junius Ho, the pro-China lawmaker for the district, has described the white shirts—some of whom have links to Hong Kong's criminal fraternities—as "heroes," while China has expressed outrage at the defacing of its national symbols with black paint and the egging of its Hong Kong liaison office at the end of Sunday's peaceful protest march.
The highly conservative culture and patriarchal land rights system of Hong Kong's New Territories villages is often at odds with the values of the urban middle classes who have flocked to the area's suburbs and satellite towns in search of affordable housing in recent decades.
In Yuen Long, which sits close to the internal immigration border with mainland China, there is a triad presence coupled with strong—though not unanimous—political support for the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Max Chung, who applied for the permit to march, said he would appeal the police decision, but that he wasn't optimistic, and that he would march anyway.
"I'm going to protest anyway, even if I have to do it alone," Chung told journalists. "I am happy to get arrested, but I'm not calling on anyone else to join in the protest."
Kenneth Lau, chairman of Hong Kong's rural villages council the Heung Yee Kuk, called on protesters to express their views peacefully, and on villagers to be restrained and remain calm.
The council has asked rural leaders to try to stop residents of indigenous villages from going to confront protesters on Saturday, Lau said.
The chairman of nearby Shap Pat Heung rural committee Ching Chan-ming said local people in the area had agreed that there would be no movement against the marchers as long as the protesters didn't cause trouble on their turf.
"As long as [protesters] don't enter their villages to cause trouble, they won't be coming out to cause an incident," Ching said. "We won't be starting any trouble ... but we're not afraid of it either; that has been our approach all along."
Threat of strikes
Meanwhile, more than 200 civil servants penned an open letter to chief executive Carrie Lam, threatening to take industrial action if her administration continues to ignore protesters' demands.
The letter was signed by employees of 44 policy bureaus and departments, and called on Lam to formally withdraw amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, release without charge anyone detained at protests, and start an independent inquiry into police violence.
They called on senior officials to stop describing the protests as "rioting," and to take responsibility for the political crisis engendered by their handling of the crisis, and step down.
If the government continues to ignore public opinion, civil servants said they would begin industrial action, including strikes and working to rule.
The letter came after more than 400 government employees—including officers in the fire and rescue, immigration, and customs services—penned an open letter to the people of Hong Kong, condemning police violence against protesters and the police failure to prevent the Yuen Long attacks.
Civil servants in the government secretariat recently also set up a "Lennon Wall" of sticky notes and comments in their office. Among the comments was one that read "political problems need political solutions," as well as calls for Lam to accede to protesters' demands.
High-ranking former officials have also called for an independent commission of inquiry, and for Lam and her officials to be held accountable.
Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department denied claims from Chinese state media that the U.S. is acting as an agent provocateur in the protests.
"We categorically reject the false charge of foreign forces as the black hand behind the protests," a spokesman said by e-mail. "Reports of organized violence by criminal gangs against private citizens, and attacks on journalists trying to do their jobs, are particularly disturbing."
"The continued erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy puts at risk its long-established special status in international affairs," they said.
Reported by Lee Wang-yam and Tam Siu-yin for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.