Hong Kong pro-democracy politicians and activists on Friday hit out at the reported presence of Chinese military vehicles on the streets of the former British colony, where tensions surrounding its political future look set to come to a head this weekend.
According to photos printed in the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, four armored personnel carriers belonging to China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) were photographed on a main street in the Kowloon peninsula in the early hours this week.
"It's a show of military might to scare off Hong Kong people who are about to stage some large-scale civil disobedience activity," democratic lawmaker Claudia Mo told Agence France-Presse.
She said the move appeared to be a deliberate one aimed at chilling support for Sunday's scheduled protests: "The timing is very suspicious," Mo said.
The organizers of the Occupy Central pro-democracy movement have scheduled a demonstration on Sunday, when Beijing will make a key announcement on the territory's bid for full, universal suffrage.
Chinese officials and media have already indicated that while Hong Kong's five million voters will each get a ballot in the 2017 election for chief executive, the nomination process for candidates will be closely controlled by the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
But Occupy co-founder Chan Kin-man said the protest would continue anyway.
"The central government is intentionally creating fear in the community so that they can scare away our supporters," Chan told AFP.
The PLA has maintained a naval base and a discreet army garrison in Hong Kong since the territory's 1997 handover to Beijing.
Images of armored vehicles, the "tank man," and effigy tanks are often used by Hong Kong citizens to protest against the 1989 military crackdown on student-led democracy protests on Tiananmen Square in Beijing.
War of words
Beijing has stepped up its war of words on the Occupy campaign and its demands for full universal suffrage that isn't "fake," in recent weeks.
Communist Party mouthpiece the People's Daily warned in an editorial on Friday that Beijing "will never leave Hong Kong alone."
"China has comprehensive jurisdiction over [Hong Kong], and will always be involved in the region's affairs," the paper said.
The proposals for public nomination endorsed by some 80,000 voters in an unofficial referendum in June "violate" Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, it said.
"If unstopped, these actions will threaten national sovereignty and security," the paper said.
"Anti-central government groups should cast off the illusion that Hong Kong is under full autonomy," it said.
Meanwhile, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on Beijing not to impede Sunday's peaceful protest or other means of peaceful expression.
"Beijing is trying to present as 'democratic' a process over which it will retain complete control," HRW China director Sophie Richardson said in a statement on the group's website on Friday.
"It shouldn't be surprised if this prompts real outrage in Hong Kong, and it shouldn't compound that mistake by preventing people from expressing their views peacefully," she said.
The decision will "shatter the promise of election of the chief executive through universal suffrage under article 45 of ... the Basic Law," HRW said.
The right to peaceful assembly is enshrined in the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, as well as in the Basic Law and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, an international treaty that applies to Hong Kong, the group said.
Hong Kong security chief Lai Tung-kwok said the police are "well-prepared" to prevent law-breaking on Sunday, in subsequent protests the following week.
"The police have made preparations of every kind, although we can't release any of the concrete details of our deployment, sorry," Lai told reporters.
"Of course, the police will deal with any lawbreaking in accordance with the law," he said.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.