HONG KONG • Hong Kong activists called off protests yesterday in remembrance of the Sept 11, 2001 attacks on the US, and denounced a Chinese state newspaper report that they were planning "massive terror" in the Chinese-ruled city.
Hong Kong has been rocked by three months of increasingly violent unrest, prompted by anger over planned legislation to allow extraditions to China, but broadening into calls for democracy.
"Anti-government fanatics are planning massive terror attacks, including blowing up gas pipes in Hong Kong on Sept 11," the Hong Kong edition of the state-run China Daily said on Monday on its Facebook page, alongside a picture of the hijacked airliner attacks on the twin towers in New York on Sept 11, 2001.
"The 9/11 terror plot also encourages indiscriminate attacks on non-native speakers of Cantonese and starting mountain fires," the post said. "The leaked information was part of the strategy being schemed by radical protesters in their online chat rooms."
The former British colony of Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 under a "one country, two systems" formula that guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent legal system. A proposed extradition Bill, which would have allowed the extradition of suspects to China to be tried under the mainland's opaque judicial system, triggered outrage among people in Hong Kong.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam has said she will withdraw the Bill, but many Hong Kong residents fear Beijing is steadily eroding the autonomy of the financial hub.
China denies meddling and has accused the United States, Britain and others of fomenting the unrest.
"We don't even need to do a fact check to know that this is fake news," said one protester, Michael, 24, referring to the China Daily Facebook post. "The state media doesn't care about its credibility. Whenever they claimed to have heard something on WhatsApp or from friends' friends, they will spread it right away."
The China Daily post was worrying, said another protester, Karen, 23. "When they try to frame the whole protest with those words, it alarms me," she said. "They are predicting rather than reporting. I think people calling it off today is a nice move."
The protesters said in a statement yesterday: "In solidarity against terrorism, all forms of protest in Hong Kong will be suspended on Sept 11, apart from potential singing and chanting."
The chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Women, Ms Pansy Ho, a prominent businesswoman and daughter of Macau casino operator Stanley Ho, said she was worried about violent extremism.
"Children of all ages are indoctrinated with police hatred and anti-establishment beliefs at school and online mobilised to conduct massive school strikes," she told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday.
The protests spread to the sports field on Tuesday, as many football fans defied Chinese law to boo the national anthem ahead of a football World Cup qualifier against Iran.
Some protesters took over parts of major shopping centres last night, singing their newest protest anthem, a day after it struck a chord with the football fans at the city's stadium. The song, Glory to Hong Kong, is said to be written by a Hong Kong composer.
Several peaceful protests are planned for the next few days, combining with celebrations marking the Mid-Autumn Festival tomorrow.