Hong Kong cop draws pistol as Uighur support rally turns chaotic

Hong Kong riot police pepper sprayed protesters in an attempt to disperse them following a largely peaceul rally in support of China's ethnic Uighurs on Sunday in the heart of the city's financial district.
Around 1,000 people attended a rally in Hong Kong yesterday, the first to be specifically in support of China's Uighurs. Many protesters waved the flag of "East Turkestan" - the term many Uighur separatists use for Xinjiang - which has a white cresce
Around 1,000 people attended a rally in Hong Kong yesterday, the first to be specifically in support of China's Uighurs. Many protesters waved the flag of "East Turkestan" - the term many Uighur separatists use for Xinjiang - which has a white crescent moon on a blue background. Others wore blue face masks displaying the East Turkestan flag. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HONG KONG • Hong Kong riot police broke up a solidarity rally for China's Uighurs yesterday - with one officer drawing a pistol - as the city's pro-democracy movement likened its plight to that of the oppressed Muslim minority.

The initially peaceful rally descended into chaos when a small group of protesters removed a Chinese flag from a nearby government building and tried to burn it.

Rally organisers stopped the flag from being burned, but riot police then swooped in with pepper spray, sparking anger from the crowd.

Police said in a statement that when they tried to arrest someone, protesters hurled objects at them and one person tried to snatch an officer's gun.

One officer drew his side arm and pointed it at the crowd, but did not fire.

Multiple protesters were seen being detained.

The rally in support of Uighurs is likely to anger Beijing. China has faced international condemnation for rounding up an estimated one million Uighurs and other mostly Muslim ethnic minorities in internment camps in the restive north-western region of Xinjiang.

The emergence of a huge surveillance and prison system that now blankets much of Xinjiang has been watched closely in Hong Kong, which has been convulsed by six months of huge and sometimes violent protests against Beijing's rule.

Pro-Uighur chants and flags have become commonplace in Hong Kong's marches, but yesterday's rally was the first to be specifically dedicated to Uighurs.

Around 1,000 people gathered in a public square close to the city's harbourfront and listened to speeches warning that the Chinese Communist Party's crackdown in Xinjiang could one day be replicated in Hong Kong.

"We shall not forget those who share a common goal with us, our struggle for freedom and democracy, and the rage against the Chinese Communist Party," one speaker shouted through a loudspeaker to cheers from the crowd.

 
 
 
 

Many of those attending were waving the flag of "East Turkestan" - the term many Uighur separatists use for Xinjiang - which has a white crescent moon on a blue background. Others wore blue face masks displaying the East Turkestan flag.

Flags for Tibet - another restless region of China that has long been under a security lockdown - were also flown, as well as Taiwan flags.

A 41-year-old woman whose surname is Wong, who attended yesterday's protest with her husband, said: "I think basic freedom and independence should exist for all people, not just for Hong Kong."

Another protester who identified herself only as Katherine, a civil servant in her late 20s, said: "The Chinese government are control freaks, they can't stand any opinions they disagree with. In Xinjiang, they are doing what they are doing because they have the power to do so. When they take over Hong Kong, they will do the same."

The city's Financial Secretary Paul Chan, in his blog yesterday, said there could be a wave of business closures in the new year.

"Many companies are now clenching their teeth and struggling to maintain their businesses," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 23, 2019, with the headline 'HK cop draws pistol as Uighur support rally turns chaotic'. Subscribe